What word SCREAMS fascinating, mystifying science? Quantum. Webster’s dictionary says, with regard to physics, quantum means the “smallest amount of any form of energy (such as light)”. NASA is into all sorts of quantum science stuff. Let’s take a stroll through some of NASA’s quantum interests.
NASA has a quantum computing lab. The gringa asks, “What does it do? What does it do?” Located at the Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) facility in California, NASA’s Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (QuAIL) is studying the computer of the future and how this technology is relevant to the future of mankind. Collaborating with Google and the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), technology is being developed to not only optimize existing computer technology, but to go beyond and create computers that can do what was before considered impossible.
Again, the gringa asks, “Like what?! Like what?!” (You can picture my little dance, hopping from one foot to another, flinging my hands up and down, as I impatiently ask this question). Well, how about “quantum teleportation”? The gringa says, “WHAT?! Are you KIDDING ME?” (now hopping straight up and down on both feet). The cute little cartoon above illustrates how the technology works.
If visuals aren’t your thing, the gringa will try to convey the concept. Imagine you have eyes that can see things as tiny as itty, bitty particles, which is what makes up everything in our world. Now, consider that there are two particles that, although separated by an incredible distance, they behave as if they are connected (kind of like a married couple). This is called entanglement (yeah, like I said, kinda like a married couple).
What scientists have done with this concept is teleported information about a particle of light over fifteen miles of optical fiber to a crystal “memory bank”. Voila! Quantum teleportation.
However, the gringa is no longer jumping up and down. I’m scratching my head and thinking, “So what!” I mean, it doesn’t really sound like a big deal. It doesn’t even sound like real teleportation to me. I mean, it traveled through a conduit, the optical fiber. I’ve seen enough episodes of Star Trek to know real teleportation means you simply vaporize, POOF, and rematerialize somewhere else. What a let down.
The gringa really doesn’t want to get shot through an optical fiber skinnier than a human hair to make a quick trip to the mall. It would make me feel like a drive-thru bank deposit. I was really looking forward to the POOF and re-materialization thing. I mean, you could strike a pose and really create a fantastic entrance wherever you went.
The “real-life” application of this technology is that it has potential to be used in cryptography. However, not only will it create secure information transmission between computers here on Earth, but also between Earth and spacecrafts. This would be done by imprinting two systems upon each other so that even when they are separated they behave as one system and, thus, unhackable (is that a word?).
So, with a quantum computer system Astronaut Annie can send a love note from Mars to Hubby Harry back on Earth and it would be as securely private as if they were writing love notes back and forth on the same pad of paper across the breakfast table from one another. Okay, the gringa does have to admit that is entirely cool. Hackers terrify me. I’m always afraid they’ll hack into my bank account and get my last five dollars (that’s usually all that’s ever in there, except for payday and maybe one day after, but, yeah, the rest of the time about five bucks).
Now, how this works is like this: Alice has a yellow photon. She wants Bob to have one just like it. Their friend, Charlie, sends them each a blue photon (these photons are “entangled”, hence the same color). Now, the rule of entanglement is since the objects are connected, anything done to one affects the other in the same way, as if they were one object. Alice smashes her blue and yellow photons together until the yellow residue dominates the blue. Now, Bob likes the color yellow better than blue so Alice wants to help him change the color of his photon. So, she teleports the information of the color yellow to Bob’s crystal memory bank and the color information imprints on Bob’s photon which now turns yellow.
So, in a nutshell, quantum teleportation is not anything like Star Trek’s device. Does that mean Star Trek technology is impossible? Um, this is NASA, NOTHING is impossible! The concept of the Star Trek transporter is that it changes matter into a signal that can be transmitted to another location and reappears. What this requires is an empty vessel of a corresponding shape waiting on the other end to receive the quantum state of transported information. So, transport a human body? Probably not. However, lay down on a transport bed and beam your consciousness into, say, a robotic version of yourself, could be.
If technology is developed to transport matter through space, what about transporting through time? Is time travel possible? Nope, not unless we get us some wormholes. And, even then it is still only a theory.
Communication and transporting matter is not the only technology that has something “quantum” about it. In medicine there is a device called the Quantum Resonance Spectrometer (QRS). It gathers cellular information from a human body which can be used to predict when a disease may strike based on an analysis of cellular change. The hope is that as this technology is perfected it will be used in preventative medicine. Japanese, Taiwanese and Chinese hospitals are already using the technology in studies of cancer, cardiovascular and heart diseases.
How about quantum energy? Can we say good-bye to oil, coal, and wind power? Maybe. NASA is developing the “quantum dot” solar cell that is flexible, lightweight and absorbs light as if it were a mini-black hole on a sunshine diet. Because of the abundance and availability of solar energy in outer space, imagine the prospects! NASA wants to use these babies on rovers and habitats as well as auxiliary power sources.
The quantum dot not only reduces weight because of it’s tiny, microscopic size that efficiently produces energy, but it also lowers the cost of space travel. The cells can be produced in a process much like ink jet printing. Large batteries that take up a lot of cargo space can become a thing of the past. Can you imagine if cars no longer needed a gas tank? No more oilfields! Hoorah! Hoorah! What is NOT to love about this technology!
So, what is the next thing on the horizon with “quantum science stuff”? How about a world-wide quantum network? If we thought the invention of the Internet was an amazing thing, the gringa says, “We ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”
Source & Photo Credit: http://www.nasa.gov