New invention of "counterportation" brings closer first-ever wormholes

Counterportation brings us closer to the possibility of creating wormholes that can bridge space in a lab.
Paul Ratner

Credit: Genty / Pixabay 

Wormholes have been a mainstay of science fiction, a passage through space-time that promises almost instant travel between far-flung regions of space. You’d start in one area of space, then take your spacecraft through the wormhole, and suddenly you’re somewhere else entirely. It’s an amazing promise of fast travel to regions of the spacetime continuum that might otherwise take lifetimes to reach. In theory, they would allow us to take shortcuts to colonizing the cosmos, transforming humanity, and delving into the untold mysteries of the universe.

But how real are wormholes? Can anyone take a step out of the pages of science fiction and move from the theoretical to actually generate one? A recent invention by a University of Bristol physicist that he called “counterportation” provides a blueprint for creating a first-ever wormhole in a lab. 

The history of wormholes

Wormholes were first conceived as an alternative solution to Einstein's theory of general relativity equations in 1916 by the Austrian physicist Ludwig Flamm. They were then elaborated upon in 1935 by Albert Einstein himself, working with the physicist Nathan Rosen. They proposed the theoretical existence of bridges connecting two different points in spacetime, which became known as “Einstein-Rosen bridges” or wormholes.

The new idea

The new idea comes from Hatim Salih, Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Bristol’s Quantum Engineering Technology (QET) Labs and co-founder of the start-up DotQuantum. In his paper, published in Quantum Science and Technology, Salih proposes that by using quantum computing and employing the basic laws of physics, a qubit (quantum bit) can be recreated at a different location in space without any particles being exchanged. 

What’s different about Hakim’s approach, explained in his blog post about the invention, is that to achieve communication, it doesn’t have to rely on carriers of information that can be detected, which has been a working assumption among scientists. As Salih writes, an example of that would be “a stream of photons crossing an optical fiber, or through the air, allowing you to read this text.” Overturning this assumption has “implications touching on the nature of reality itself.”

Another way people have imagined Star Trek-like quantum teleportation is with information about an object being sent first. At that point, an object completely identical to the original would be reconstituted in the new location while the one being sent disintegrates. 

What Hatim Salih aims to achieve with counterportation, which could become possible with the creation of a new type of quantum computer, is communication “where communicating parties exchange no particles.”

A new kind of quantum computer

As he shared in the press release from the University of Bristol, Salih sees these types of computers as different in intent than what has been the current trend of trying to create “large-scale quantum computers that promise remarkable speed-ups, which no one yet knows how to build.” The exchange-free quantum computers he is working to devise would “make seemingly impossible tasks—such as counterportation—possible, by incorporating space in a fundamental way alongside time.”

If no particles are exchanged, how would the object get transported across space? The physicist explains that this is “where local wormholes come into play—made of an often overlooked spatial entanglement of a single particle…” Further defining the effect of counterportation, he writes that it “manipulates spatial entanglements of a single particle into a duo of self-interference scenarios, choreographed in superposition using a dual sequence of possible escapes. These can entangle two objects across space without any particles crossing: entanglement from entanglement.”

The process folds two separate regions of space through the dimension of time. What is necessary then is to unfold it (as depicted in the diagram below), unentangling the two objects in such a way that one ends up being “counterported” to the other side, essentially achieving the creation of a traversable wormhole. 

New invention of "counterportation" brings closer first-ever wormholes
Traversible local wormhole

The two quantum objects, one on either side, start off at the bottom unentangled. The qubit to be counterported is the one on the right. As time elapses, the local wormhole gradually entangles the two objects across space, where the degree of entanglement is indicated by the saturation of red. Halfway up, entanglement is maximal. Information is no longer localized in space, which can be perceived as folded. The process is then reversed. The two objects are gradually unentangled—such that by the point when space has unfolded, once more via the time dimension, the qubit ends up across on the left. The orange and the greenish vertical lines, corresponding to two local journeys in observable spacetime, show that no detectable information carriers have traveled across. (Illustration by Hatim Salih)

The implications

The potential repercussions of his work can be immense, writes Hatim Salih. How can you transport an object across spacetime without exchanging any information? This provides, according to the author, “compelling evidence that an objective physical reality, underlying the quantum description of the world, is what has carried quantum information across space.”

To test these ideas, the scientist is currently collaborating with leading quantum experts in the UK to physically build a wormhole in a lab.

Interesting Engineering (IE) reached out to Hatim Salih for more insight into his work.

The following exchange has been lightly edited for clarity and flow.

Interesting Engineering: What type of small objects would be first to be counterported, according to your proposal?

Hatim Salih: An atom encoding a quantum bit, or qubit.

IE: How would wormholes affect our lives if they were to be created and utilized?

Pushing the limits of our understanding of spacetime. But we also know that pursuing such fundamental questions can lead to technological advances as a bonus – think the internet being invented at CERN.

IE: How will you test counterportation? How close are you to doing it?

By testing the fidelity of the couterported qubit, or how closely it matches the original. What we'd be looking for is a violation of a limit that classical physics sets. 

All the components that go into the system have already been demonstrated separately; so it's a matter of carefully putting everything together, which is not as easy as it sounds. My estimate is five years. 

IE: If information could be recreated elsewhere in space, what happens to the original information?

It disintegrates into randomness! - as nature prevents perfect copying of quantum objects (the no-cloning theorem). I think there's something satisfying about that.

Read Hatim Salih's paper “From counterportation to local wormholes” in the journal Quantum Science and Technology.


We propose an experimental realisation of the protocol for the counterfactual disembodied transport of an unknown qubit—or what we call counterportation—where sender and receiver, remarkably, exchange no particles. We employ cavity quantum electrodynamics, estimating resources for beating the classical fidelity limit—except, unlike teleportation, no pre-shared entanglement nor classical communication are required. Our approach is multiple orders of magnitude more efficient in terms of physical resources than previously proposed implementation, paving the way for a demonstration using existing imperfect devices. Surprisingly, while such communication is intuitively explained in terms of 'interaction-free' measurement and the Zeno effect, we show that neither is necessary, with far-reaching implications in support of an underlying physical reality. We go on to characterise an explanatory framework for counterportation starting from constructor theory: local wormholes. Conversely, a counterportation experiment demonstrating the traversability of space, by means of what is essentially a two-qubit exchange-free quantum computer, can point to the existence in the lab of such traversable wormholes.

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