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From the January 2002 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 49, No. 1)

Anton Zeilinger

Spin Doctor


Andrew Yurkovsky
Senior Editor

A physics professor at Vienna University, Anton Zeilinger is perhaps best known as Mr. Beam. The moniker, which plays on the name of the popular British comedy program Mr. Bean, alludes to the fanciful application of one of Zeilinger’s discoveries regarding subatomic particles.

More than 30 years since “Star Trek” first aired on television, the transporter room, along with the expression “Beam me up, Scotty,” still belongs to the realm of science fiction. And science fiction it is likely to remain for the foreseeable future, despite a small but important step that Zeilinger and his colleagues have made in the kind of teleportation depicted on the popular TV series.

Implicit in the quantum theory of physics is teleportation—the idea that a particle, or a full quantum description of a particle—can be sent instantly over an indefinite distance. Albert Einstein predicted teleportation before rejecting it as excessively counterintuitive. In 1997, Zeilinger and a group of colleagues confirmed this aspect of the quantum theory when they managed to teleport light particles over several kilometers.

Zeilinger’s research is sufficently impressive that his colleagues regard him as a strong contender for the Nobel Prize, according to the Austrian magazine Profil (July 16, 2001). In June 2001, he was awarded Germany’s Orden Pour le Mérite.

As keenly interested in the humanities as the sciences, Zeilinger—a bass-playing jazz aficionado—hardly fits the stereotype of the coolly detached researcher in a white coat. One of Zeilinger’s colleagues, Peter Zoller, told Profil: “He has an artist’s nose, the artistic intuition of a good painter. He has the brilliant ability to put his finger on the right points, to pick out the raisins in the cake.”

Scientists are looking seriously at more immediate implications of Zeilinger’s work for technology and research. These include cryptography and a new theory of quantum mechanics, according to New Delhi’s The Statesman and London’s New Scientist.


 
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