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Could any form of matter teleportation every really happen?

If so, what form would it take? Some science-fiction talks about literally sending the atoms from one location to another; others talk of creating a duplicate and destroying the original.

Question originally added here.

Update: there are a couple of comments asking me to specify what I mean by teleportation. I'm talking about stuff of Star Trek - taking an object or person and transporting them almost instantly across great distances (thousands of KMs) by:

  1. breaking them up at the atomic (or smaller) level
  2. transporting those atomic components (or the information, "recipe" to recreate) and
  3. (re-)assembling at the new location.
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I think to make this a good question you'd have to edit it to specify exactly what counts as "teleportation." (also: xkcd.com/465) –  David Z Nov 22 '10 at 20:05
    
*well, to make it a better question, I mean. –  David Z Nov 22 '10 at 20:26
    
@David Zaslavsky - thank you. I will try - not sure whether I can specify it exactly, but close enough. –  Wikis Nov 22 '10 at 21:10

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I don't think it's possible in the way you mean it:

Option 1

Decompose, move, rebuild

Decomposition is possible as long as we can consider the matter classical. If any quantum state is relevant, it will be automatically destroyed in the process of measuring the state of each atom in order to be able to rebuild later. This will lead to a large increase in entropy (which is relevant in the last step).

The movement of a stream of atoms is possible, but not simple at all, especially if you need to focus it in a spot. The energy required, though is probably very similar to the energy required to transport the matter classically.

Rebuilding is possible (given enough technology, that is), but it would be enormously expensive in terms of energy because of the need of reversing the increase of entropy in the first step, locally.

All in all, it's probably possible, but much more expensive in terms of energy than simply moving the body, so it's not clear to me how useful it would be.

Also, were the matter being transported a living being, there are a number of ethical questions involved: would the person rebuilt be still the same person as the one killed by the first step of the process?

Option 2

Use quantum teleportation

This, as far as I know, requires a quantum entanglement between the mass and a perfect copy of the mass. Although this is probably possible for simple systems, I am not really sure it represents the kind of teleportation you are looking for. It's a teleportation of quantum states, not of matter.

Option 3

Abuse Quantum Mechanics

This is far off, and there's nothing suggesting that it's possible, but if we found a way of interfering radically with the probabilities of quantum mechanical measurements, we could leverage the indeterminacy in the body's position to make it move. It really depends on us understanding better how the wave function actually collapses.

Option 4

Abuse General Relativity

This is also far off, but if we were to open a stable wormhole between two positions then it should be possible to step from one place to another instantly. This merely requires using currently unknown forms of exotic matter to generate the holes, because all the wormholes that we know of, in GR, are actually of really small diameter and also apparently a not very healthy place to be because of extreme gravity, radiation and so on.


A couple of good resources (divulgative but physically accurate):

Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration of the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation and Time Travel

The Physics of Star Trek

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@Sklivvz - great answer. I was mainly looking for option 1 but I like the way you've itemised them all. And the ethical questions you raise are also very interesting, especially in the case where the first version is destroyed and the new version is created using different matter. –  Wikis Nov 22 '10 at 21:16
    
@Mark Robinson: Of course, what determines matter to be different? –  Vortico Nov 23 '10 at 1:53
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@Voritco: one thing, that you could make multiple copies... –  Ebenezer Sklivvze Nov 23 '10 at 7:20
    
@Sklivvz @Vortico - exactly, good point. And that's happened on Star Trek: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Riker –  Wikis Nov 23 '10 at 7:23
    
@Skivvz: I think the cost is not expensive at all. The energy needed is the amount to disintegrate and rebuild the chemical bond. That is, it should be the same order of magnitude to burn the material of a human body, or similar, a bucket of petroleum. –  hwlau Nov 23 '10 at 10:36

What do you mean by "teleportation"? In the strictest sense, you will never be able to make an object disappear from one position and reappear in another instantaneously. That would create all sorts of problems with causality in relativity.

There's nothing particularly wrong with the idea of disassembling an object in one position, sending the information about how it was put together to another position at the speed of light, and reassembling the object at that location from raw materials already in place. That's effectively like teleportation in a lot of ways, but doesn't violate any rules of physics. Using the techniques of quantum teleportation, you can even make sure that the distant copy is created in exactly the same quantum state as the original, should that be important.

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thanks for that. But what do you mean by "problems with causality in relativity"? And why would it be important that the copy is in the same "quantum state"? To answer your question, I mean teleportation as in science-fiction like Star Trek. –  Wikis Nov 22 '10 at 14:00
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@Mark: Special relativity tells that if you're able to send something faster than c (e.g. teleport instantaneously), then you can build a time-machine and play with causality. –  Frédéric Grosshans Nov 22 '10 at 14:09
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"Problems with causality" refers to the fact that according to relativity, the timing of events depends on the speed of the observer. As long as no information can travel faster than light, causes will always precede effects for all possible observers, regardless of their speed. If information can move faster than light, though, it's not hard to create a situation where effects happen before the things that caused them according to at least some observers. You can even set up paradoxes where the superluminal signal is used to prevent the sending of the signal in the first place, and so on. –  Chad Orzel Nov 22 '10 at 14:11
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"Quantum state" refers to the fact that, in quantum mechanics, objects can be in superpositions of more than one state at the same time. A quantum bit in a quantum computer can be in an arbitrary mixture of both "0" and "1." It is impossible to determine the exact state of a single quantum particle without knowing something about it in advance, and it's impossible to duplicate the state so you have two copies of it, but you can transfer that information to a distant particle via "quantum teleporation." –  Chad Orzel Nov 22 '10 at 14:13
    
@Frédéric Grosshans @Chad Orzel - awesome stuff, thanks. This kind of thinking always blows my mind! –  Wikis Nov 22 '10 at 14:54

I don't believe the process will ever allow plants or animals to be transported in this fashion. But we will eventually use teleportation for inanimate objects such as ores and minerals.

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The question is asking for a scientific answer, not opinion. (Though I believe you have a valid point about inanimate objects.) –  Wikis Mar 29 '12 at 13:43

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