Teleportation: Science fiction or science fact?


The first time I read Lawrence M. Krauss’ masterpiece, “The Physics of Star Trek”, was in January 1996, which is hard to believe. Time, among other things, definitely does fly, but doesn’t diminish my memory of how much I enjoyed that book. Being a physicist and a life-long science fiction fan, I absolutely devoured it, even though some of his conclusions were disappointing. For example, he virtually discounted the possibility of teleportation. He recounted the basic steps as defined in the Star Trek Next Generation Technical Manual as follows:startrekbeam1

  1. Transporter locks on the target.
  2. Scans the image to be transported.
  3. Dematerializes the item (or person).
  4. Retains the information in a “pattern buffer”
  5. Transmits the “matter stream” in an “annular confinement beam”.
  6. Reassembles it based on data retained in the “pattern buffer.”

Krauss then proceeded to explain in meticulous, often amusing detail, what the requirements would be to create both a matter stream of the atoms comprising the teleportee’s body coupled with an information stream of how to put it back together.

startrekbeam2To wit, considering that a person consists of approximately 10^28 atoms (ten followed by 28 zeros, for those of you who don’t recognize that notation), turning a 50 kilogram person into pure energy according to Einstein’s E=mc^2 would release more energy than that of a thousand 1-megaton hydrogen bombs. To do so would require heating him/her to a temperature a million times the temperature at the center of the Sun. Accelerating the resulting plasma soup to near the speed of light is another feat, to say nothing of also transferring around 10^28 kilobytes of data to the “pattern buffer” to reassemble it. On top of that, there’s Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and various other quantum mechanical difficulties.

heisenbergprincRemember, however, that this was written back in the 90s and science has made vast advances since then as has our computational capacity. Personally, I would bet it could be done using the principles of quantum entanglement, but Krauss’ points are nonetheless well-taken. After all, he’s a professor of physics in his own right, at Case Western University when he wrote that particular book.

However, in Stephen Hawking’s foreword to said book, this phenomenally brilliant physicist stated, “Today’s science fiction is often tomorrow’s science fact. The physics that underlies Star Trek is surely worth investigating. To confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be to limit the human spirit.”

And apparently someone has done exactly that. At government expense. And much to my delight, quantum entanglement was indeed mentioned.  See?  I’m not as dumb as I look.

I never know what I’ll turn up when I go on a cleaning frenzy, more often than not, a desperate search for something in that proverbial “safe place” which I suspect lies in some other dimension. This last quest didn’t produce what I was hoping for, but instead I stumbled upon something even better, a paper from the Air Force Research Laboratory, Document AFRL-PR-ED-TR-2003-0034 entitled “Teleportation Physics Study.” This report is 88 pages long and is in front of me as I write.

USAFTeleportSeriously. I swear I’m not making this up.

When I worked at NASA, I came across all sorts of similar goodies and usually kept a copy, either electronic or hardcopy, provided it wasn’t classified, of course. In truth, I never saw anything of that nature, but plenty of stuff that was borderline and certainly not publicized.

This study was conducted by an organization known as Warp Drive Metrics located in Las Vegas for the Air Force Research Laboratory at Edwards Air Force Base. I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but notice that they’re both conveniently located not far from the infamous Area 51.

In the Introduction to this study the author states: “Beginning in the 1980s developments in quantum theory and general relativity physics have succeeded in pushing the envelope in exploring the reality of teleportation. . . . It has been recognized that extending the present research in quantum teleportation and developing alternative forms of teleportation physics would have a high payoff impact on communications and transportation technologies in the civilian and military sectors.”

He names five types of teleportation of which the science fiction version is one, but discounted as not included in the study, or so he says. Sad but true, you never know what jewel one of us sci-fi authors might come up with via our respective muses.

Of the five mentioned, my personal favorite is, as you would expect, the method using quantum entanglement, dubbed q-Teleportation, which he defines as the “disembodied transport of the quantum state of a system and its correlations across space to another system.”

I was particularly amused by Section 3.0, which addresses this particular category. The steps he summarized were as follows:

  1. Object placed inside the teleporter and scanned by a computer-generated and controlled beam.
  2. Scan beam encodes entire quantum information contained within the object into organized bits of information, forming a digital pattern of the object.
  3. The information is stored in a pattern buffer.
  4. The scan beam dematerializes the object into a matter stream.
  5. Teleporter transmits matter/energy stream and quantum information signal in the form of an annular confinement beam to its destination.
  6. The receiving teleporter reconstitutes the matter based on quantum information stored in the pattern buffer.

Hmmmmm. Am I the only one who thinks that sounds an awful lot like what Krauss described from the Star Trek Next Generation Technical Manual?

Section 3.0 goes on to describe many of the same calculations Krauss did.

Bah! Sci-fi discounted, indeed!

In Section 3.2.3 entitled “Recent Developments in Entanglement and q-Teleportation Physics”, he states, “Technical applications of entanglement and q-Teleportation are just becoming conceptualized for the first time, while a small number of basic physics breakthroughs and their related applications are in experimental progress at present.” (Emphasis added.)

You can’t make this stuff up.

Note that this study was conducted between January 2001 and July 2003. No telling what advancements have been made in the past 15 years.

My second favorite, p-Teleportation, is the “conveyance of persons or inanimate objects by psychic means” which he describes in Section 5.0. He goes on to mention psychics Uri Geller and Ray Stanford, who “claimed to have been teleported on several occasions. Most (emphasis added) claimed instances of human teleportation of the body from one place to another have been unwitnessed.”

Really? Ya think?

15385125_mlHe goes on to say, “There are also a small number of credible reports of individuals who reported being teleported to/from UFOs during a UFO close encounter, which were scientifically investigated….”   Plus: “There is a wealth of factual scientific research data from around the world attesting to the physical reality of p-Teleportation and related anomalous psi phenomena. The skeptical reader should not be so quick to dismiss the subject matter in this chapter, because one must remain open-minded about this subject and consider p-Teleportation as worthy of further scientific exploration.” He even mentions my favorite psi researcher, Dean Radin, PhD, of whom I’m a tremendous fan.


Dean Radin PhD has done highly respected research on psi phenomena such as telepathy.

e-Teleportation, defined as “exotic”, comprises “the conveyance of persons or inanimate objects by transport through extra space dimensions or parallel universes”. This involves superstring theories, electromagnetic – gravity unification theories, and brane theory.  Don’t mind me, but just because they can do the math doesn’t mean it’s possible, if you know what I mean.

Last but not least, vm-Teleportation involves wormholes and “engineering the spacetime metric” which was supported by numerous pages of mind-bending math including linear algebra, trigonometry and multi-variable calculus equations loaded with enough Greek letters to be its own fraternity.

I don’t know how much money the author received for this study, which took two and a half years, but it could probably be found in the public record using the contract number. I must say that it would be just about any physicist’s dream job. In no way do I mean to dismiss the knowledge and expertise required to put this together. This is a comprehensive, thoroughly investigated study which includes 253 references, most of which were to prestigious journals such as Physics Review Letters, Physics Today, Military Intelligence, Nature, Science, numerous books published by Cambridge and Oxford University presses and various others by esteemed physicist authors. The original document’s distribution list included 54 individuals, 36 of whom were PhDs.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with my tax dollars going for such research, even though it’s undoubtedly hidden in all those “black projects” such as those conducted at Area 51, Dulce Base, Wright-Patterson AFB and probably Dugway Proving Grounds. Better spent there than numerous others I can think of but won’t name so as to remain politically correct in today’s volatile environment.

Nonetheless, the truth is out there.  Possibly more than we could begin to imagine.  Including me, as a science fiction writer.

You can pick up a copy of Krauss’ book on Amazon here. For a copy of the “Teleportation Physics Study” contact the Air Force Research Laboratory, Air Force Materiel Command, Edwards Air Force Base, CA 93524-7048 and ask for Report AFRL-PR-ED-TR-2003-0034. By now it might even be available online since it was released for “unlimited distribution.”


13 thoughts on “Teleportation: Science fiction or science fact?

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  3. I’m no scientist, but I figure that if an MRI can read details of our body, some other instrument can use these details to transport the individual … what I could never quite wrap my mind around was how clothing and items in hand could be transported and not get melded.

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