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An Australian breakthrough showed there was theoretically nothing stopping the teleporting of human beings, but in practice it was a long way off, scientists said.

Scientists at the Australian National University have made a discovery which takes them a small step towards the science fiction fantasy of teleportation.

The 12 member team, headed by 34-year-old Dr Ping Koy Lam, succeeded in teleporting a laser beam - disembodying it in one location then reconstructing an exact copy a metre away.

The achievement had eluded the best scientists from the United States and Europe and has awesome potential for practical application including unbreakable codes and, in the longer term, the quantum computer.

And in the dim distant future is the prospect of teleporting objects or even people, just as in the science fiction television series Star Trek.

The process is vaguely analogous to the common fax machine but involves the cutting edge application of quantum physics using the theories of Albert Einstein and others.

"What we have done is taken a beam of laser light and completely destroyed that beam, then make measurements on the destroyed beam, walk over to the other side of the lab and then reconstruct an exact replica," Dr Lam told reporters .

He said the teleportation of a single atom would probably occur in the next three to five years but human teleportation was far away.

"At the moment we don't know how to teleport a single atom and a typical human being has 10 to the 27th atoms, which is one followed by 27 zeros," he said.

"So the problem is really very difficult. In theory there is nothing stopping us. No one is thinking seriously about this at the moment."

"What used to be science fiction is now cold hard fact," he told reporters.

"Dr Lam and his colleagues hold out the potential, the likelihood even of teleportation of objects and human beings."

The theoretical underpinning for the work came from the IBM lab in the United States almost a decade ago and the ANU team has been working on it since 1997.

Success in the experiment was indicated by a computer printout and Dr Lam was not even in the lab the first time.

"We were both quite surprised when it worked," Mr Buchler recalled . "Some of us were quite pessimistic that it would ever happen.

"It is a very difficult experiment to work. We rang up Ping Koy and he was very excited.

"Then we went down the pub and had a beer."


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