In Anton Zeilinger’s dream world, superfast quantum computers will process data using single atoms instead of silicon
chips. Such devices will have fantastic powers, including the
ability to transpose matter into packets of information and teleport it through space. But to Zeilinger, even that dream is not
exotic enough. When science is truly new, he says, the technology that results from it “cannot be imagined” in advance.
He speaks from experience: The Austrian physicist has spent
his career on the outer boundaries of understanding, studying
some of the greatest mysteries of quantum physics. While classic Newtonian physics does a fine job of describing the world
we see around us, it breaks down utterly when confronted with
the unpredictable behavior of the quantum world, the realm of
atoms and quarks. Quantum physics addresses that breakdown,
but it also leads to ideas so bizarre that Albert Einstein said they
had to be in error. He particularly objected to “entanglement”
—the notion that twin particles could become intertwined
across space and time—and predicted it would never be proved.
Yet Zeilinger is doing just that through an elaborate series of