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Atomic particles 'teleported'

Scientists say complex quantum experiment could lead to faster computers that work like magic.

Teleportation--"sending" atoms, or at least their properties, through space without any physical movement--is possible, according to scientists at the National Institute for Standards and Technologies.

In a paper published in the journal Nature, NIST scientists say they were able to transfer the quantum state, or list of active properties, of one beryllium atom to another. The quantum state describes such physical characteristics as energy, motion and magnetic field.

Since the quantum properties of an atom can represent data, teleportation could be thought of as a way of creating an atomic network. Data could move rapidly through teleportation from one zone in a hypothetical quantum computer to another.

In NIST's teleportation experiment, there is no physical movement. Instead, data is transmitted. Such a transfer could speed up calculations in a futuristic computer. "It is quicker than moving the atoms" in such a computer, NIST spokeswoman Laura Ost said.

The NIST experiment works by putting three atoms in a confined area, called a trap, filled with gold electrons and lasers. Lasers are used to excite the atoms and change their spin, a quantum property. Atoms No. 1 and No. 2 are entangled, or set into a relationship with each other that creates a distinct interaction. The properties of the 1-2 relationship are then replicated in a 1-3 entanglement. Thus, atom No. 3 takes on the characteristics of atom No. 3, because the 1-3 entanglement now is identical, for measuring purposes, to the 1-2 relationship.

"It's hard to quickly move qubits (the quantum form of digital bits) to share or process information," NIST physicist David Wineland, leader of the work, said in a prepared statement. "But using teleportation as we've reported could allow logic operations to be performed much more quickly."

Scientists can't determine the exact quantum properties of the atoms, but by studying the relative properties of the atoms, the characteristics of one can be said to have transferred--thus, the atom in question has, for all purposes, been teleported.

"It is very hard to explain or understand, but the general idea is that there is this mathematical link set up," Ost said. "It is not a physical link."

Using atoms or molecules to represent the 1s and 0s of computing has become more prevalent in research laboratories. In April, Israeli scientists said they were having success with a so-called DNA computer that could find malignant cells by tracking the pattern of the four amino acids on DNA and RNA strands.