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entanglement

In quantum theory, entanglement is the way that particles of energy/matter can become correlated to predictably interact with each other regardless of how far apart they are. Quantum entanglement allows quantum bits (qubits) that are separated by incredible distances to interact with each other immediately, in a communication that is not limited to the speed of light. No matter how great the distance between the correlated particles, they will remain entangled as long as they are isolated.

Particles, such as photons, electrons, or qubits that have interacted with each other retain a type of connection and can be entangled with each other in pairs, in the process known as correlation. Knowing the spin state of one entangled particle - whether the direction of the spin is up or down - allows one to know that the spin of its mate is in the opposite direction.

Even more amazing is the knowledge that, due to the phenomenon of superposition, the measured particle has no single spin direction before being measured, but is simultaneously in both a spin-up and spin-down state. The spin state of the particle being measured is decided at the time of measurement and communicated to the correlated particle, which simultaneously assumes the opposite spin direction to that of the measured particle.

Entanglement is a real phenomenon (Einstein called it "spooky action at a distance"), which has been demonstrated repeatedly through experimentation. The mechanism behind it cannot, as yet, be fully explained by any theory. One proposed theory suggests that all particles on earth were once compacted tightly together and, as a consequence, maintain a connectedness. Much current research is focusing on how to harness the potential of entanglement in developing systems for quantum cryptography and quantum computing.

In 1997, Nicholas Gisin and colleagues at the University of Geneva used entangled photons to enable simple - but instantaneous - communication over a distance of seven miles.

This was last updated in April 2006

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