‘Beam me up, Scotty!’
In these parlous days of rapidly escalating gas priceseven my friendly neighborhood plumber now adds a $10 fuel surcharge to his already outrageous billsacademic and industrial researchers are frantically turning to improved and/or alternative energy sources.
By Jeff Bairstow
In these parlous days of rapidly escalating gas priceseven my friendly neighborhood plumber now adds a $10 fuel surcharge to his already outrageous billsacademic and industrial researchers are frantically turning to improved and/or alternative energy sources. So far, so good.
While it makes good sense to further refine fuel cells, high-capacity batteries, and the like, how about a little thinking outside the box, say, to develop teleportation techniques? Teleportation could be much cheaper than firing up the family’s gas-guzzling SUV behemoth for the daily commute.
I can already hear some of you saying, “Whoa! Is this guy nuts or what? Teleportation is impossible. Teleportees would be DOA.” Plenty of well-educated folks once claimed that heaver-than-air flight was impossible, too. Now here comes one Michio Kaku, a highly regarded professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York, saying, “Wait a few nanoseconds, please, it seems to me that teleportation may be theoretically possible if we take a closer look at quantum theory.”
Well, now, I don’t think that Prof. Kaku is entirely nuts. Let’s not forget that the eminent British physicist, Lord Kelvin, once called x-rays a hoax. So let’s have a look at what Professor Kaku is claiming. He has just completed a remarkable book, Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration Into The World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel (New York: Doubleday, 2008). I’ve already put in an order for a dozen phasers!
Read the book and see for yourself that the professor is by no means bonkers. Indeed, I should mention in passing that Kaku has also written several very highly regarded books, among them, notably, Einstein’s Cosmos, Hyperspace, and Parallel Worlds. Clearly, Prof. Kaku knows whereof he speaks. Although most of his books are aimed at an informed lay audience, Prof. Kaku is a recognized authority on string theory.
What Kaku has done is to discuss some 15 or so “impossible” phenomena that frequently figure in what we know as science fiction. He then examines them in the light of current knowledge and application of the laws of physics. Kaku divides these phenomena into three classes of impossibilities. Class I includes force fields, teleportation, and robots, as being among the more likely ideas to see practical use, possibly within several centuries. Class II impossibilities include time travel, and Class III includes perpetual-motion machines. The latter two classes are truly impossible says Kaku, but, are they really?
Let’s take the popular science-fiction fantasy of teleportation as a highly simplified example. According to Newtonian theory, teleportation of living bodies is clearly impossible. Light is composed of a series of tiny particles that cannot be reassembled, according to the Newtonians. But, in 1925, Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrodinger showed that waves of light could act like particles and vice versa.
This led to the idea that it would be possible to teleport and reconstitute objects, at least at the atomic level. Since then scientists have successfully transported photons over fiber-optic cable for a distance of 600 m beneath the river Danube in Vienna.
Of course, that’s a long way from actual teleportation of a living and breathing human being. However, in 2007 scientists at MIT and elsewhere made another leap forward with the production of a bizarre state of matter called the “Bose-Einstein condensate,” which had been predicted by Einstein and Satyendranath Bose in a paper they wrote in 1925. There’s a way to go with the Bose-Einstein condensate, but suffice it to say, we may shortly be constructing atomic lasers that will facilitate the teleportation of complex DNA molecules.
Now, if only I could beam up my plumber and get our leaky toilet fixed! Unfortunately, in my view, I’m at least a century too soon for that. However, I think I’d settle for a robot to handle just my home-based aquatic crises. And if you’d like to get the latest word on domestic robots, read Prof. Kaku’s thoughtful chapter on that subject.