John Kerin JUNE 17, 2002 IN a dramatic technological breakthrough, an Australian-based research team has teleported a message-encoded laser beam - bringing the science fiction fantasy of "beaming" humans from one place to another a step closer. Although Star Trek-style planet hopping is way into the future, teleporting - disassembling objects in one place while a perfect replica is created elsewhere - promises to revolutionise computing and communications over the next decade. The Australian National University team, partly funded by the Australian Research Council, has been involved in a global race with teams from the US and Europe to extend the frontiers of the science, and they are the first to reliably and consistently transmit a laser beam. Using a process known as quantum entanglement, the researchers, led by 34-year-old physicist Ping Koy Lam, have disassembled a laser at one end of an optical communications system and recreated a replica a metre away. Quantum entanglement allows what Einstein termed a "spooky interaction" at a distance between two objects at the speed of light. An encoded radio signal is embedded on an input laser, which is combined with entanglement and then scanned. The laser is destroyed in the process. But the radio signal survives and is sent electronically to a receiving station, where within a nanosecond an exact replica of the beam - with the radio signal intact - is retrieved and decoded. A US research team pioneered teleportation with small particles of light called photons in 1997. A Danish team from the University of Aarhus established a means in theory of teleporting atoms in October last year. "What we have demonstrated here is that we can take billions of photons, destroy them simultaneously, and then recreate them in another place," Dr Lam told The Australian. "The applications of teleportation for computers and communications over the next decade are very exciting." Quantum teleportation could make encrypted or coded information 100 per cent secure, Dr Lam said, because even if intercepted the message would be unintelligible unless it was intended for a specific recipient. This could be as revolutionary for a new class of superfast quantum computers as the transistor was for conventional computers. Quantum computers will be able to solve problems millions of times faster than current computers. And the breakthrough could lead to an increase in the speed and quantity of information transferred in fibre optic communications. "This technology would have tremendous potential for banks, financial institutions and governments who want to protect information," Dr Lam said. "It should be possible to construct a perfect cryptography system. When two parties want to communicate with one another, we can enable the secrecy of the communication to be absolutely perfect." But for a human to be teleported, a machine would have to be built that could pinpoint and analyse the trillions and trillions of atoms that make up the human body. Quantum teleporting is problematic for humans because the original is destroyed in the process of creating the replica. "I think teleporting of that kind is very, very far away," Dr Lam said. "We don't know how to do that with a single atom yet. "But that doesn't mean that in the far future it's not possible." This report appears on australianIT.com.au.