CANBERRA, Australia -- Australian scientists said Monday they had successfully "teleported" a laser beam encoded with data, breaking it up and reconstructing an exact replica a yard away.
Their work replicates an experiment at the California Institute of Technology in 1998, but the Australian team believes their technique is more reliable and consistent.
Although the research brings to mind the way "Star Trek" characters were beamed around on TV and in film, scientists at the Australian National University said their technique's main use will be as a way to encrypt information and for a new generation of super-fast computers.
At this stage, the process perfected by Australian physicist Ping Koy Lam and his 12-member team can only teleport light by destroying the light beam and creating an exact copy at the receiving end from light particles known as photons.
"We have taken a beam of laser light ... and completely destroyed it and then made measurements of the destroyed laser beam and then took the measured results to the other side of the lab and reconstructed an exact replica of what we have destroyed," said Lam.
Teleporting a laser beam involves destroying and replicating billions of photons.
Lam said he believes the process, called "quantum teleportation" and which takes a nanosecond - one billionth of one second - will soon be used for teleporting matter.
"My prediction is if we are not doing it, it will probably be done by someone in the next three to five years, that is the teleportation of a single atom or a small group of atoms," he said.
Teleporting a living person would likely be virtually impossible, scientists said.
"In theory, there is nothing stopping, us but the complexity of the problem is so huge no one is thinking seriously about it at the moment," Lam said.
Quantum teleportation makes use of a strange aspect of quantum physics called the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which says it is impossible to measure both the speed and position of an object at the same time.
The researchers couldn't directly measure the key characteristics of the laser beam they wanted to replicate, so they turned to a process called entanglement. In entanglement, characteristics of tiny particles - like the photons that make up laser beams - can be mirrored in a second set of particles.
So researchers can make their measurements on a second laser beam that was entangled with the first. The measurements are then sent by radio waves to the receiving station, which exactly replicates the first beam that was destroyed in the process of entanglement.
Lam's team will be presenting the results to an international conference on quantum electronics in Moscow next week.