Future Tech: Hack-Proof Chatting

Monday, 29 April 2002, 10:53 AM EST

Camped on a volcanic mountaintop in the New Mexico desert, physicist Richard Hughes and his colleagues at the Los Alamos National Laboratory are playing a game of subatomic catch. A laser mounted on a beat-up trailer fires through a thick filter, lobbing one photon at a time. Several miles away, those photons are collected by a telescope and analyzed to measure their polarizations—the orientation of their waves. This game is a warm-up for the big event, pitching photons to a telecom satellite in Earth orbit. When that happens, sometime within the next five years, it will mark the beginning of the age of truly secure communications.

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