|Teleportation Considered This Year's Biggest Breakthrough
Thanks to physics, and the truly bizarre quirks of quarks, those Star Trek style teleporters may be more than fiction.
A strange discovery by quantum physicists at the University of California Santa Barbara means that an object you can see in front of you may exist simultaneously in a parallel universe -- a multi-state condition that has scientists theorizing that teleportation or even time travel may be much more than just the plaything of science fiction writers.
Until this year, all human-made objects have moved according to the laws of classical mechanics, the rules governing ordinary objects. Toss a ball in the air and it falls back to Earth. Drop a coin from your roof and it falls into your yard. But back in March, a group of researchers designed a gadget that moves in ways that can only be described by quantum mechanics -- the set of rules that governs the behavior of tiny things like molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles.
And the implication -- that teleportation and even time travel may someday, somehow be a reality -- is so groundbreaking that Science magazine has labelled it the most significant scientific advance of 2010.
Physicists Andrew Cleland and John Martinis from the University of California at Santa Barbara and their colleagues designed the machine -- a tiny metal paddle just barely visible to the naked eye -- and coaxed it into dancing with a quantum groove: First, they cooled the paddle until it reached its "ground state," or the lowest energy state permitted by the laws of quantum mechanics (a goal long-sought by physicists). Then they raised the widget's energy by a single quantum to produce a purely quantum-mechanical state of motion.
They even managed to put the gadget in both states at once, so that it literally vibrated a little and a lot at the same time -- a bizarre phenomenon allowed by the weird rules of quantum mechanics.
"When you observe something in one state, one theory is it split the universe into two parts," Cleland told FoxNews.com at the time, trying to explain how there can be multiple universes and we can see only one of them.
Crazy? Maybe. Insanely great science? Absolutely.
Science magazine has just recognized this first quantum machine as the 2010 Breakthrough of the Year. The magazine's editors have also compiled nine other important scientific accomplishments from this past year into a top ten list, appearing in a special feature in the journal's current issue.
"On a conceptual level that's cool because it extends quantum mechanics into a whole new realm," said Adrian Cho, a news writer for Science. "On a practical level, it opens up a variety of possibilities ranging from new experiments that meld quantum control over light, electrical currents and motion to, perhaps someday, tests of the bounds of quantum mechanics and our sense of reality."