Star Trek's fictional technologies have, over the years, driven some real scientific advances. Plenty of companies aspire to recreate Star Trek's tricorder, and Google is currently endeavoring to replicate the Enterprise's computer. But a bunch of physics students from the University of Leicester have nixed the possibility of Star Trek's most fantastic, longed-for technology: Teleportation.
As Motherboard writes, it would take about 4.85 quadrillion years to teleport a human being into orbit around the Earth (quadrillion is the one after trillion). That's a pretty long time, considering we think of teleportation as a near-instant alternative to slower modes of transportation. By comparison, it only takes a few hours to fly from Earth to the International Space Station.
Why is teleportation, as these physicists look at it, completely impractical? It comes down to two issues: the volume of data, and the speed at which we can send that data. Through quantum entanglement, teleportation is possible--sort of. We can recreate the quantum state of an atom that exists in one place in another place, effectively moving data. It actually sounds a bit like the teleportation in Star Trek, which breaks a person down into an energy pattern accurate to the quantum level.
Turns out, people consist of a lot of data. "Breaking down a person by the DNA pairings in each cell, they found the total data for a human genome is 6x109 bits—billions of tiny particles," writes Motherboard. "But what really slows the teleportation process down is the human brain—all those facts, memories, song lyrics, Spanish verbs, and the rest of the information stored in the average person’s head. The brain added another 2.6x1042 bits that had to be beamed into space."
Transporting all of that body-and-brain data using a 30GHz bandwidth, as outlined in the paper, would take about 4.85 quadrillion years, "making teleportation impractical."
Impractical for now, anyway. In 4.85 quadrillion years, hopefully we'll have come up with something faster than the space shuttle.