We’re still a long way from having Star Trek-style transporters, but an Australian research team has taken a small step towards that goal. In a recent experiment, the researchers took a laser beam, “destroyed” it (didn’t they just turn it off?), and built an exact replica of it one metre away in the span of 30 billionths of a second. In theory, they should be able to teleport the laser over a distance of kilometres and team leader Dr. Ping Koy Lam says that while they can only transport light right now, they hope to transport a single atom or even even a small number of atoms in three to five years.

Philosophical issues aside — this kind of teleportation destroys the original and creates an exact duplicate elsewhere, which leads to questions like “will that still be ‘me’ at the end of the transport?” — what worries me is the math skills of the team leader. Here’s a quote from the story in the Australian newspaper, The Age:

“At the moment we don’t know how to teleport a single atom and a typical human being has 10 to the 17th atoms, which is one followed by 27 zeros,” he said.

Uh, Doc, 10 to the 17th is written as one followed by 17 zeroes, not 27. The quote — which I’m hoping is the newspaper’s error’s and not the scientist’s — is off by ten orders of magnitude.

For my non-mathematically-inclined stoner friends who don’t know what “ten orders of magnitude” means, imagine putting a dime bag of weed on Dr. Lam’s transporter pad. You’d the “energize” button, and it would appear at the destination as a trillion tons of the stinky stuff, which is more than half the mass of the moon. Par-tay!

Recommended Reading

IBM did some research into teleportation almost ten years back. I nominate IBM research employee Wes Felter as a test subject. 😉

Charles and Ray Eames weren’t only just designers of cool furniture, they were also pretty good filmmakers! Their best-known film is a nine-minute wonder called Powers of Ten, which starts with people at a picnic and zooms outward to the intergalactic scale and inward to the subatomic. It’s one of the few educational films worth watching again.

Here’s a page with an interactive “Powers of Ten” Java applet inspired by the Eames film.

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