Physicists announced on Wednesday that they had successfully simulated a pair of black holes and created a “theoretical” wormhole on a quantum computer. The researchers were able to transmit a message through the wormhole without affecting space or time, potentially paving the way for future studies of teleportation.
According to a study published in the journal “Nature,” scientists at the California Institute of Technology used the computer to virtually simulate what amounts to a tunnel connecting distant regions of the universe.
The achievement is a small step in understanding the relationship between gravity and quantum mechanics.
Dr. Maria Spiropulu, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology, the leader of a consortium called Quantum Communication Channels for Fundamental Physics, and co-author of the report, described that the “holographic” tunnel has the elements of a “baby wormhole.”
“This is important because what we have here in its construct and structure is a baby wormhole. And we hope that we can make adult wormholes and toddler wormholes step-by-step.”
Of course, scientists did not create a real-life wormhole, but physicists celebrated their work as a spectacular technical triumph. Dr. Spiropulu and her colleagues created the wormhole through an “emergent” two-dimensional space with “quantum fields on the edge of space-time determining what happens within.”
The computer-generated cosmic tunnel was built by scientists on Google’s Sycamore quantum processor. Essentially, their system was small enough to be implemented on current hardware while retaining the key properties of a gravitational wormhole.
Experts like Dr. Spiropulu stressed that scientists are still a long way away from being able to teleport any living being through a time-travel portal.
“Experimentally, for me, I will tell you that it’s very, very far away. People come to me and they ask me, ‘Can you put your dog in the wormhole?’ So, no.”
The study’s co-author Dr. Joseph Lykken said, “these ideas have been around for a long time, and they’re very powerful ideas.”
“But in the end, we’re in experimental science, and we’ve been struggling now for a very long time to find a way to explore these ideas in the laboratory. And that’s what’s really exciting about this.”
Dr. Daniel Jafferis, a physics professor at Harvard, said that the “key question, which is perhaps hard to answer, is: Do we say from the simulation it’s a real black hole?”
“I kind of like the term ’emergent black hole.’ We are just using the quantum computer to find out what it would look and feel like if you were in this gravitational situation.”
M.I.T. physicist Dr. Daniel Harlow, who was not involved in the experiment, told the New York Times that the study’s foundation was an extremely simplistic and unrealistic model of quantum gravity.
“So I’d say that this doesn’t teach us anything about quantum gravity that we didn’t already know. On the other hand, I think it is exciting as a technical achievement, because if we can’t even do this, and until now we couldn’t, then simulating more interesting quantum gravity theories would certainly be off the table.”
According to Dr. Harlow, Developing computers capable of handling these simulations might take 10 or 15 years.
Dr. Leonard Susskind, a Stanford University physicist who was also not involved in the study, agreed with Dr. Harlow.
“They’re learning that they could do this experiment. The really interesting thing here is the possibility of analyzing purely quantum phenomena using general relativity, and who knows where that’s going to go.”
The concept of a wormhole was first born from physicist Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity in 1935. Einstein and a fellow physicist, Nathan Rosen, showed how shortcuts connecting black holes through space and time could theoretically exist. These bridges were later termed to be “wormholes” by physicist John Wheeler in 1957.
The recent wormhole experiment used the mathematics of general relativity to investigate quantum teleportation in the hopes of illuminating some previously unknown facet of physics or gravity.
In quantum teleportation, researchers can use a set of quantum manipulations to convey a message between two entangled particles, whether separated by inches or miles, without the researchers knowing what the information is. The technique is seen as fundamental to the development of an unhackable “quantum internet” of the future.
In a Nature article accompanying the paper, Dr. Susskind and Dr. Adam Brown, a physicist at Stanford, said the results could help demystify aspects of quantum mechanics.
“The surprise is not that the message made it across in some form, but that it made it across unscrambled.”
According to Dr. Lykken, the most straightforward explanation is that the message went through a “really short” wormhole.
In quantum mechanics, the shortest conceivable length of a wormhole in nature is 10⁻³³ centimeters, which is also known as the Planck length. Dr. Lykken calculated that the wormhole in the study was no more than three Planck lengths long.
“It’s the smallest, crummiest wormhole you can imagine making. But that’s really cool because now we’re clearly doing quantum gravity.”