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Science and fiction

Hollywood teleports to MIT
By BRETT MICHEL  |  February 15, 2008

080215_jumper_mian
Jumper

Jumper: An 88-minute flop. By Bret Michel

In his starring role as David Rice in director Doug (The Bourne Identity) Liman’s latest film,Jumper, actor Hayden Christensen is gifted with the power to “jump” — that is, to teleport himself, instantly, to any place on the globe. This past month, Liman and Christensen traveled to MIT via more traditional means to promote the 20th Century Fox release. Sure, they flew from LA in less than five hours, but could they have blinked themselves across the country even faster?

Not any time soon, according to MIT physicists Dr. Max Tegmark and Dr. Edward Farhi, who were on hand to discuss the scientific realities of teleportation, following 15 minutes of clips from Liman’s sci-fi action/adventure.

The students, who waited in line for hours for the film’s first sneak peek, were vocal in their appreciation of the footage. In fact, the scene inside the massive lecture hall was more like what one would expect to find on MTV’s TRL than at MIT. A breathless girl, one of the select few who got to pose a question, asked Christensen if he was single — “for a friend,” naturally.

It wasn’t all hyperventilation, though. Another student, segueing from a measured speaking voice to a spot-on parody of the quintessential nerd, inquired if Christensen had expected a pack of short-sleeved, pen-protector-wearing poindexters to turn out.

“I guess I wasn’t expecting such a lively group,” he replied, smiling as Dr. Farhi led a PowerPoint presentation featuring the actor in a variety of action-pose publicity stills to make his light-hearted case for science-fact versus the film’s science-fiction. In quantum experiments that are “a little less exotic than what you see in the movie,” Farhi explained, scientists have been able to “teleport” a single particle — a photon — over a distance of two miles. What is actually transmitted, however, is not the particle itself, but the quantum information about the particle. In order to theoretically recreate Christensen in another location, Farhi continued, “First, we must destroy the actor,” a point sure to discourage a film production’s insurance provider.

Though Liman says he was something of a “physics prodigy in high school,” the halls of MIT are a long way from 11th grade. Tales of his efforts to ground the film in reality were met with uproarious laughter. “In other places, I sound scientific,” he countered.

Not that it makes much difference. People don’t go to movies expecting a science lesson, says Dr. Tegmark. That would be “too much like work.”

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