Teleporting Santa

December 15, 2009 — Leave a comment

Each year in the department we have a Christmas lecture followed by a postgraduate competition where the PhD students have five minutes to demonstrate something festive with physics. I have entered this for the previous two years and intend to play again next Wednesday when it happens once more. Incidentally, I won the past two so the pressure is on for a hat trick!

This means that each year I have spent probably too much time thinking about nice, simple physics demonstrations that vaguely relate the the holiday season. One of my favourites is the one I concocted to try to demonstrate the principles of teleportation using LEGO.

The only way I can think that Santa might be able to deliver so many presents in just 31 hours (think about it) is that he must be able to teleport – unless he can time travel. If he delivered all the presents by parking the sleigh, descending into the house and laying them out then it would take him thousands of years to get the job done.

Santa's Delivery Problem

To demonstrate teleportation in a lecture theatre turns out to be quite easy – and fun. You need some LEGO and a bench with a dividing screen on it. After a brief preamble explaining the basics of teleportation you ask for two volunteers to act as ‘supercomputers’. You give one a small LEGO model of Santa and ask them to disassemble the model and put the pieces in a pot. Then the pieces are passed to the second ‘supercomputer’ who has to reassemble the model with only the pieces and instructions from the first volunteer. This is done under a time limit for a bit of extra excitement. They will almost undoubtedly not reassemble Santa correctly and this can be very funny by itself.

It illustrates rather nicely how much information storage/transmission would be required to teleport something as they do in Star Trek. There is also the issue of the nature of the LEGO blocks themselves. If you pass the same pieces over then you have to explain how that would be done. Alternatively you can use other identical pieces but then is that really the same Santa that you started with?

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