“Beam me up, Scotty,” may be one of the most recognizable phrases of the first Star Trek series. The phrase refers to the Star Trek world’s use of the concept of teleportation. Tele (Greek) and portare (Latin), become teleport and translate as to move or carry a thing a distance. In Star Trek Earth had evolved this technology of being able to move both objects and people fairly long distances.
Gene Rodenberry was merely building on concepts that already existed, with the word first coined by Charles Fort in the 1930s. He used the term to describe the sudden and strange appearance of unexplained things like crop circles or a rain of frogs. Fort believed that such phenomena was due to teleportation, though his findings are often disputed and there has been some scientific explanation for certain things he ascribed to teleportation.
The idea of teleportation has been one used in science fiction, and also been the subject of many claims throughout history. In particular, incidents like the one involving Sister Mary Agreda, became used as evidence that teleportation existed. In the 17th century, this nun claimed that while deep in prayer, in Spain, she ended up in New Mexico and brought Christianity to the Indian tribes there. Strangely enough, when Spain did discover Native American tribes they were familiar with Christianity, lending credence to Sister Mary’s story. However, many such stories have been hoaxes, and there are certainly other explanations than Sister Mary’s.
In science, teleportation has been of vast interest. While we’re by no means ready to “beam” any person, anywhere in the near future, physicists have made some breakthroughs in this area. In 2002, scientists at the Australian National University were able to successfully teleport a laser beam a few feet. Two years later, scientists in both Austria and the US were each able to teleport a few ions. In Denmark in 2006, a multi-atom, a very tiny object, was moved half a meter.
There are essentially two types of teleportation being researched. Exact teleportation means an exact object in its original form is removed from one spot and appears in another. You can also inexactly transport an object, by encoding all data about its components and reproducing it elsewhere.
We are still far removed from teleporting anything as large as a human, or any type of animal given the billions of atoms involved. But the matter remains one of interest to science fiction writers and scientists alike. The potential, especially for recreating an object of all its constituent parts, is quite fascinating. For instance, in Star Trek teleporting could be a way to fix genetic code problems, remove diseases, or even lose weight, because it involves reconstructing the person at the smaller than atomic level.