Beam me up? Not in the life of this universe

Student boffins find walking to the moon would be faster than teleportation

By Richard Chirgwin, 31 Jul 2013

If you ever doubted that the world needs vastly, incredibly, unbelievably more bandwidth, how about this: if you wanted to scan every detail of a human and teleport them via, say, a radio signal, it'll take a very, very, VERY long time.

How long? Try a "universe-is-not-old-enough-by-a-long-shot" kind of long time.

That's according to work from students at the University of Leicester, writing in that institution's peer-reviewed house journal Physics Special Topics. The fourth-year students, Declan Roberts, James Nelms, Suzanne Tower, and David Starkey considered two data: how much information would you need to transmit to teleport a whole human, and how long would it take using a reasonable estimate of bandwidth?

Presuming that the technology existed to actually transport an accurate “scan” of a human, right down to the DNA and the brain, the students came up with a total message size of 4.55 x 1042 bits. That's rather a lot: 4,550,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 Terabits.

Which then brought them to the data transfer rate that could reasonably be deployed: since the Star Trek-style teleport is between an orbiter and people on the surface of a planet, the students picked a 0.5 GHz channel in the 30 GHz band for their thought experiment, and a stream rate of nearly 3 x 1019 symbols per second – or, if you prefer familiar terms, 30,000,000 Tbps.

Yes, that's a very high transfer rate. As the students note in the paper, they've assumed that a technology sufficiently advanced to build a Star Trek teleporter can work at close to the Nyquist limits of their sampling and communications technology.

Those two numbers put together – the amount of information in a person and the transfer rate – yield a transfer time of 4.85 x 1015 years. This, unfortunately, is somewhat greater than the age of the universe, at a mere 14 x 109 years.

And while Physics Special Topics is a student showcase, there's a serious point after all: to get students ready to deal with publications before it becomes their life-or-death obsession. ®

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