Quantum Entanglement and Teleporting to the Top of the Egyptian Sphinx on Your Lunch Break

We physicists used to laugh whenever we talked about some of the topics that I mention in my book, "Physics of the Impossible"—some of these include such ideas as invisibility and teleportation. But we aren’t laughing anymore and we realize that we were wrong on this one. Quantum teleportation already exists and I have had the opportunity to witness this process with my own eyes. In fact, for the Science Channel; we took a film crew and traveled to the University of Maryland and actually filmed an atom being teleported right across the room (from one chamber to another chamber) from a distance of about 5 feet. So, at the quantum level we are experimenting with these processes and already doing this. It’s called quantum entanglement and it’s where two atoms, for example, are vibrating in synchronization (beating back and forth at the same rate).  There is an umbilical cord that connects these two twins and anything that happens to one is automatically reflected in the other—faster than the speed of light. So, in a sense, you can have these twins "know" of each other’s presence and that’s the generalized principle by which we use quantum teleportation to "zap" objects.

Now, when we perform these quantum teleportation experiments, we are doing on the atomic level that we once thought to be impossible—and have essentially thrown our previous misconceptions out the window. Cessium and Rubidium atoms have, for example, already been teleported, and I think that within another decade or so we may scale up the process and teleport the first molecule.

The problem is the same when we are talking about the bizarre world of the quantum theory in itself; some things are just unexplainable and defy all the laws of common sense. If you want to see a physicist blush, Ask them about the origin of the quantum theory. The quantum theory is the most bizarre, incredible and phantasmagoric theory ever proposed: objects can disappear and reappear someplace else and objects can be two places at the same time. If you utter this to someone on the street they would dismiss this as nonsense, but in fact electrons do this all the time. Transistors and laser beams are prime examples of this and these strange occurrences are things that we cannot explain yet we know that they happen. One of my previous blog posts at Big Think "The Bizarre and Wonderful World of Quantum Theory--And How Understanding It Has Ultimately Changed Our Lives" explains some of these occurrences in further detail.

We are actually starting to hear about Quantum Teleportation on televisions and it’s also starting to appear in the latest magazine and newspaper headlines.

  • National Geographic Magazine posted an article in 2004 stating that Austrian researchers have teleported photons across the Danube River in Vienna
  • DISCOVER Magazine posted an article in 2009 stating that Researchers have accomplished teleportation by sending individual atoms of the element ytterbium, which were suspended in separate containers three feet apart.
  • Popular Science posted an article on 5/19/2010 stating that Researchers Achieved Quantum Teleportation Over 10 Miles of Empty Space As I stated previously, we may be able to scale up the process in a decade or so and teleport a molecule and then further on down the road perhaps teleport a virus.

As I stated previously, we may be able to scale up the process in a decade or so and teleport a molecule and further on down the road perhaps teleport a virus. Right now, our grasp on the technology simply isn't where we would like it to be. It may be quite a while before you can instantly teleport to the top of the Egyptian Sphinx to eat your lunch like Hayden Christensen did in the movie JUMPER.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

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Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
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  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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