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In theory, the counterintuitive workings of quantum mechanics can guarantee that digital communications are utterly immune to prying eyes. That theory has advanced quickly, but the practice is now catching up, thanks to two developments by one of the field’s pioneers.

University of Vienna physicist Anton Zeilinger and his team realized the first teleportation of photons in 1997. Not to be confused with the stock-in-trade of Star Trek’s Montgomery Scott, teleportation is the instantaneous transfer of the properties of one particle to another distant one; it’s key to perhaps the most unassailable version of quantum communications. In November, Zeilinger and his team reported that they’d taken the process two important steps further.

First, they teleported not just a photon’s usual properties but also its strangest one: entanglement. What’s more, they did it over a record distance of 143 kilometers, linking the Canary Islands of La Palma and Tenerife. That distance is particularly significant, because it’s nearly as far as the boundary of low Earth orbit.

Second, they pulled off a similar feat—although over a much shorter distance—using twisted light, the kind featuring photons having a property called orbital angular momentum. Photonics experts hope orbital angular momentum could hugely increase the bandwidth of optical telecommunications networks.

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