January 18, 2013

Teleportation and Invisibility Clocks - 'Reality is Stranger than Fiction'


Two things that have been the topics of endless writings by science fiction (Sci-Fi) writers for decades, along with being central to the TV show Star Trek and the Harry Potter series of books and movies, are teleportation and invisibility cloaks.  To start the New Year right, I thought you’d like to know that according to phys.org, fantasy has moved closer to reality on both scores.

“Beam me up Scotty!”

With the admission that the subject matter here is pretty dense science, the teleportation item, Entanglement recycling makes teleportation more practical, says we are moving ever closer to what is known as “quantum teleportation” —where an object in one place can be scanned and replicated in another, with the idea of not just replication but of actual physical transport.  Physicists, Sergii Strelchuk at the University of Cambridge in the UK, Michal Horodecki at the University of Gdansk in Poland, and Jonathan Oppenheim of the University of Cambridge and the University College of London, have published their study on how they believe we can move the ball forward on the subject with a recent article in Physical Review Letters.

Without getting into the debate as to whether it is even possible to perfectly scan something (contrarians say the process of scanning makes this impossible), or the issue of whether the original object needs to be destroyed for something like a human to be literally transported, the notion of near-perfect replication even without true human teleportation (ourselves disappearing in once place and showing up somewhere else by being beamed) is fascinating. 


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As the article points out, the scientists believe that by reducing the amount of entanglement required for quantum teleportation protocols, entanglement recycling could open the doors to implementing teleportation in quantum computing applications. In short, this opens the door for things like next generation collaboration and lots of industrial design and construction uses. Who knows, this could even displace what is still the nascent use of 3D printing.  

I can’t see you!

While teleportation may still fall into the realm of being an aspiration when it comes to me instantaneously physically pay you a visit, the item on the invisibility cloak is not that far off, and the applications of its use are many.  Researchers, led by Tie Jun Cui at Southeast University in Nanjing, China, have published their paper on an ultrathin,  not a perfect invisibility cloak, in a recent issue of Applied Physics Letters

Once again the science is a bit complicated for those of us without advanced engineering degrees. That said, what the researchers have done is present the case that it is possible to overcome the two important variables for designing materials that cannot be seen—electric permittivity and magnetic permeability. For definitional purposes what is important here is that: “Electric permittivity corresponds to the degree to which a material permits the formation of an electric field within itself, while magnetic permeability corresponds to the degree to which a material can be permeated by a magnetic field,” according to the article.

As the article states, “A perfect invisibility cloak must have a permittivity and permeability that are both strongly anisotropic (directionally dependent) and inhomogeneous (made of different materials).” A metamaterial with these parameters is currently beyond the reach of current technology. However, by loosening these strict requirements, researchers have been able to fabricate metamaterials that mimic these properties and can be used as imperfect invisibility cloaks.

The breakthrough being revealed by the researchers is that for the first time they were able to design and fabricate a dc line-transformed invisibility cloak. In short, they are very, very close to having come up with the perfect invisibility cloak. 

The applications cited for such materials are highlighted as being electric impedance tomography (EIT), a medical imaging technique that can detect cancer, and for use in cloaking or detecting land mines. It is also noted that the researchers plan to study three-dimensional ultra-thin dc cloaks and ultrathin cloaks for harmonic fields. 

If all of this sounds scary as well as thrilling there is reason to feel both emotions. Certainly, the military applications, and possible “big brother” implications are food for thought. At a more practical level, one can only wonder what this might mean in a business context. Think about IT professionals and executives, for example, not being able to see BYOD users spending time on non-business related web-centric activities. Are we ready for an era where out of sight had best not mean out of mind? 

If nothing else, both of the above developments give credence to the saying that “reality is stranger than fiction.” 




Edited by Brooke Neuman



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