University of Connecticut theoretical physics professor building a time travel machine

By @vitthernandez on
'Back to the Future' Car
Pedestrians stop to look at and photograph a DeLorean Motor Company DMC-12, customized to look identical to the car used in the film "Back to the Future Part II", and that will be part of a Lyft promotion, in New York October 21, 2015. Today marks the day that the movie's main character, Marty McFly, travelled to the future in the 1989 "Back to the Future" sequel. Reuters/Lucas Jackson

Time travel has been an important element of science fiction, as proven by the popular movie franchise “Back to the Future.” But Ronald Mallett, a physics professor at the University of Connecticut, believes he could move it from fiction into a reality.

The 69-year-old academic was initially motivated to build a time travel machine so he could warn his father, Boyd Mallett, of an impending heart attack that killed his dad. It was 1955, Boyd was then 33, while Ron was 10 years old.

In 1956, he read H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine” and was struck by a line that says people of science are aware that time is like a kind of space in which people can move forward and backward. He combined that idea and Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity that states light and matter create gravity.

What set Mallett afire to pursue his dream of building the time travel machine is the theory that if gravity could change time and light, then light can create gravity and also alter time. The professor designed “a machine that would use lasers to twist time and bend it back on itself to form a loop.” By affecting space, he believes it would also affect time.

Ron Mallett Ron Mallett in his UConn office writing a key equation of his theory.  University of Connecticut

In using the circulating beam of laser light, Mallett says he showed mathematically that it could twist space and time. He adds, “By twisting time into a loop. It could be possible to travel back in time,” quotes Techradar.

Physically, the design of Mallett’s time machine was a circulating tunnel of light where information would be sent to the past through neutrons. Helping him build the machine is Chandra Roychoudhuri, an experimental laser physicist who designed the prototype made up of a series of stacked ring lasers with glowing green ring circulating around a glass tube, reports Bloomberg.

He explains that because subatomic particles spin in only two directions, either up or down, by assigning 1 to the upward direction and 0 to the downward movement, a person than can send a binary code with a stream of neutron spins.

In theory, the machine could get messages from the future, but backward only from the point it was switched on, which dashed hopes of him going back to 1955. Despite this limitation, he wants to pursue the idea and is seeking an initial funding of $250,000 (AUD$350,000) to build the scale model which he estimates would be ready in five years.

For the second phase which involves proving that twisting of space would twist time and lead to time travel, he could not provide yet a cost estimate.

Critics of Mallett, such as University of Columbia professor Brian Greene believes the former’s theory would not work in practice. Another critic, Tufts University’s Institute of Cosmology research professor Ken Olum, adds that such a machine could only be built with advance technology not yet available now.

Mallett admits he kept his work on the time travel machine a secret for a long time due to fear the physics community may consider him a mad scientist not fit for tenure.

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