Growing up, most children grew up to love superheroes. There may be many reasons behind this obsession, like their capability to save lives, their unique traits, or their special abilities. In particular, there’s this one recurring ability of imaginary characters that you can find across fictitious comics and/or animations: teleportation.
Being an imaginative character would most of the time translate to having supernatural abilities, those which cannot be found in ordinary human beings like you and me. Teleportation is a classic skill that goes beyond the talents of mankind, as thus far no one has been able to exhibit the behavior.
Though the teleportation mechanisms vary from one series to another, they generally share the same concept when it comes to teleporting a person or an object. More specifically, according to Merriam Webster, teleportation is “the act or process of moving an object or person by psychokinesis.” Likewise, Merriam Webster provides another fictitious definition of teleportation which is an “instantaneous travel between two locations without crossing the intervening space.”
The concept of teleportation is so attached to most science-fiction tales that they can be found in numerous world-renown titles like Power Rangers, Marvel Cinematic Universe, X-Men, countless Japanese anime, as well as classic bed-time stories like Narnia, Harry Potter, and many others.
Nightcrawler’s Teleportation Superpower
In particular, most X-Men fans probably recognize Nightcrawler’s ability to teleport from one place to another. The human-mutant displays a wide range of abilities that make him one of the most agile characters in the X-Men timeline. With the ability, Nightcrawler puts to shame many of his enemies who are desperate to pin him down. Indeed, teleportation is an overwhelming skill compared to even the most sophisticated weapons of the world we live in.
Now, the question remains is whether or not Nightcrawler’s teleportation superpower or teleportation, in general, is possible. The answer to that is yes, with certain conditions. If the answer were to be merely a yes, then none of us would be stuck in traffic as we can simply teleport to our destination in a blink of an eye.
Perhaps one may think that teleportation is as easy as stepping into a portal and arriving at the desired destination in that one step like Nightcrawler does, but what happens in the process? Does his body get disintegrated into pieces and later recreated at the endpoint? Will he carry over his prior knowledge, or will his final self be merely an identical clone without whatever knowledge he initially had?
Since no one has ever managed to teleport, then there can be millions of possibilities when it comes to understanding how the process of teleporting a human can be. However, it is in fact possible to teleport information from one place to another, with the help of Quantum Mechanics.
As weird as Quantum Mechanics can be, the laws that they provide are indeed in line with what experiments have shown in the world of the very small: the subatomic level of particles. Some of their concepts may seem obscure, as most of the things we observe daily don’t accord with the mechanics of the Quantum. Fear not, as we shall go through this one particular Quantum algorithm called Quantum Teleportation in layman’s term – if ever possible.
Before we dive in, let’s take a step back and re-think how teleportation can be viable without the need to consult Quantum Mechanics. One possibility is to encode information of a being into digital waves that can travel through multiple mediums and arrive elsewhere – sort of like transferring digital content such as images, videos, and audio. As the final step, we would only need to convert the waves back into the original information and voila, we’ve performed teleportation.
Unfortunately, the physical world around us can hardly be converted into digital waves, let alone be reconverted back into their original form. Nonetheless, if we had a machine to do such things, we can most certainly break down Nightcrawler’s mutant body into pieces of information and perform such procedures, though it is, of course, unlikely in the real world.
However, in the realm of the very small where subatomic particles live, this is in some ways possible. Quantum Mechanics permit us to describe subatomic particles that make up an object in terms of its properties like position, momentum, and spin. If we can “extract” such information from an object, we can theoretically send the information over to another place and recreate an identical copy of the object at the destination. That way, we’ve teleported the object from one place to another, via the means of transferring its Quantum Information.
Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle
Although Quantum Mechanics would allow us to describe a particle in terms of its Quantum Information, it is in some ways secretive and would not want us to be able to perform such magic. What I mean by that is the consequence of a fundamental principle of Quantum Mechanics that hinders us from knowing all properties of particles with great certainty.
You’ve probably heard of the famous Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which states that it is only possible to know both the position and momentum of a particle at the same time. That means, if we identify the position of a particle, we’re left with an unpredictable momentum of the particle. On the other way around, if we know a particle’s momentum, then we would not know its position.
A fun analogy to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle is to play peek-a-boo with Michael Jackson – a modification of a Quora answer found here. There are only two simple rules in the game: you either close your eyes, or you cover your ears. Whichever you pick, Michael does two things:
- He either sings or doesn’t sing.
- He either moonwalks or doesn’t moonwalk.
If you choose to close your eyes, you will have no idea whether Michael is moonwalking or merely standing still. What you certainly know is whether Michael is singing, or not singing, since your ears are not covered.
On the flip side, if you choose to cover your ears, you wouldn’t know whether Michael is actually singing or only moving his lips. What you do know is whether Michael is moonwalking, or not moonwalking, because you can clearly see it with your eyes open.
In the same way, the Uncertainty Principle is the same game-rule which does not permit an observer to know both properties like position and momentum at the same time. It’s either you know one property with certainty and guess the other, or vice versa.
Quantum Information, in one sense, is very fragile. If you measure one property, then the other remaining property cannot be known to a high degree of accuracy. The moment you measure position, then the momentum of a particle can only be one’s wild guess, and vice versa.
We indeed have this risk of destroying Quantum Information that we need to transport over. Thus, sadly, we cannot just simply obtain the complete Quantum Information about the particles that make up Nightcrawler’s mutant body, send the information, and recreate his body elsewhere. We hence need a smarter workaround to achieve Quantum Teleportation without measuring the fragile Quantum Information of any subatomic particles.
To be able to perform the Quantum Teleportation procedure, we have to first understand what it means for two subatomic particles to be in Quantum Entanglement.
Imagine that you have a pair of electrons whose spins are entangled. You set them apart in an arbitrary distance, say one held by Magneto in Germany and one held by Wolverine in the United States. Do note that at this point none of the electrons’ spin has been measured. That is, their holders have not observed them, and thus none of their properties are known.
Now, if Wolverine measures his electron’s spin, then his measurement will influence the electron’s spin in Magneto’s possession – the same goes the other way around. The form of influence is as the following: if Wolverine’s electron is measured to be in spin up, Magneto’s must be in spin down. Otherwise, if Wolverine’s electron is measured to be in spin down, Magneto’s must be in spin up.
In other words, measuring the spin of one of the entangled electrons will determine the spin of its pair. Therefore, information about the first electron’s Quantum State, called a qubit of data, influences its partner without transmission across intervening space. This influence disregards the distance between the entangled pair and is persistent regardless of how far apart the entangled qubits are.
I have to admit that it’s very much challenging to explain Quantum Entanglement in day-to-day words, as clearly, this phenomenon is exclusively found in the realm of Quantum. To this day, the reason behind Quantum Entanglement is still confusing to the experts and is hugely debated, to the extent that Albert Einstein himself described Quantum Entanglement as “spooky action at a distance.”
Quantum Teleportation Protocol
With the understanding of Quantum Entanglement, we can finally exploit this property to teleport Quantum Information from one place to another. Imagine Magneto wants to send a Gem of Cyttorak from Germany to Wolverine in the United States. This procedure requires a third party’s involvement, so let’s say we ask for the assistance of Professor Xavier.
The first step to Quantum Teleportation is for Profession Xavier to create an entangled pair of qubits. Professor Xavier gives the first of the entangled qubits to Magneto and the second to Wolverine. Also, both Magneto and Wolverine have a machine that could convert objects to-and-from Quantum Information.
Then, using his machine, Magneto encodes the Quantum Information of the Gem of Cyttorak on his entangled qubit. Once converted into Quantum Information, Magneto has to measure the qubit on his end, influencing Wolverine’s qubit due to entanglement.
After the measurement, the Gem’s Quantum Information on Magneto’s qubit is now digital information and could be sent via classical channels like radio waves, microwaves, or fiberoptics. Hence, in the process of measurement, the Gem is deconstructed into digital information and is sent over to Wolverine – destroying the Gem on Magneto’s end.
Using the additional digital information he’s received about the Gem, Wolverine is able to convert the second of the entangled qubits still in his possession back into the Gem’s original form. Thanks to the digital information sent by Magneto, Wolverine’s machine knows exactly how to decode the qubit back into the Gem’s initial form. With that, Wolverine has successfully reconstructed the Gem of Cyttorak with the means of Quantum Teleportation.
One particular catch to notice is that the transfer of digital information via classical channels is limited by the speed of light – in line with the consequence of Einstein’s Special Relativity. This would also mean that the process of Quantum Teleportation is not instantaneous.
Furthermore, the recreation of the object at the endpoint would also destroy the source object at the initial location. Therefore, Quantum Teleportation is by no means duplicating or cloning the object. Specifically, this implies that Quantum Teleportation accords to the no-cloning theorem found in Quantum Mechanics.
How Might Nightcrawler Teleport Himself?
In principle, we can teleport objects, even people, as long as we have the means to convert them to-and-from Quantum Information. However, in reality, we would need ginormous amounts of energy to measure the vast atoms that make up objects in the real world and recreate them elsewhere.
Perhaps, such a resource of energy is accessible in the world of X-Men and is thus performed by Nightcrawler to his body’s very own atoms, with the portals that he creates being the encoder-decoder machines.
That would also mean that Nightcrawler requires the help of a qubit-entangler and an invisible receiver in his desired destination. Otherwise, the atoms in Nightcrawler’s human-mutant body must have been entangled with an equal amount of atoms that lie at the opposite end of his portal, to perform Quantum Teleportation independently. In any case, it all depends on the Quantum laws obeyed in the universe of X-Men.
Because we don’t live in the universe of X-Men, the limits of today’s technology currently only permit the Quantum Teleportation of subatomic particles like electrons. However, in theory, we can extend this same protocol to any objects we’d like, maybe even ourselves.
Quantum Mechanics have proven to be weird, to say the least. Nevertheless, these initially purely-theoretical ideas have been proven to be in turn, practical and applicable. One possible outlook of Quantum Teleportation is to utilize it as a method of teleporting Quantum Information from one place to another safely.
Likewise, Quantum Mechanics is one concrete proof that even the most creative science-fiction tales and wonders may just one day be possible. What other X-Men superpowers can we find in the realm of Quantum Mechanics? Only time can tell…
Featured Image by Comic Basics.