A Circulating Beam of Light as a Way to Time Travel ; Ronald Mallett's Physics Career Grew from an Early Fascination with an Offbeat Concept

By Kuhl, Mary | The Christian Science Monitor, May 16, 2002 | Go to article overview

A Circulating Beam of Light as a Way to Time Travel ; Ronald Mallett's Physics Career Grew from an Early Fascination with an Offbeat Concept


Kuhl, Mary, The Christian Science Monitor


Ronald Mallett has wanted to travel in time ever since, as a boy, he first read "The Time Machine," by H. G. Wells. The science- fiction novel suggested to him the possibility of returning to the past to save his father, who died at 33, when young Ronald was only 10.

Now Dr. Mallett, a physicist at the University of Connecticut at Storrs, believes he has found a way to make time travel possible - on a circulating beam of light.

"I was devastated," Mallett says of the loss of his father. But he did not wallow in his grief - instead he used it to shape his life. His childhood fantasies fueled a distinguished career in physics.

Mallett happened upon the studies of Einstein and realized that he would have to "learn a lot more physics and a lot more math" before he would be able to understand the possibilities of time travel. He studied physics on both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and eventually earned a doctorate in physics from Pennsylvania State University in 1973.

Mallett has acquired scholarly fame recently as his theories on time travel have been published. Time is relative to space and velocity. This concept is difficult to grasp, but it has been supported by experiment. Traveling close to the speed of light will slow a clock, even an atomic clock. Likewise, a clock outside our atmosphere, far away from any gravitational pull, will run faster than a clock on earth. Therefore, if an artificial gravitational force were created, time travel would, in theory, be possible.

Mallett believes he has found a way to make it happen. By trapping light inside a photonic crystal, he can cause it to circulate. The energy of the circulating light will cause the space inside the circle to twist, causing a gravitational force.

This concept can be thought of as a spoon stirring a pot. The light is the spoon rotating around the inner rim of the pot. The space is the liquid being swirled by the spoon. As the space twists, it will coil the normally linear passage of time with it, spiraling the past, present, and future together into one continuous loop. It is this twisting of space and time that Mallett believes will make time travel possible.

Mallett and his partner at the University of Connecticut, Dr. Chandra Raychoudhuri, are seeking National Science Foundation funding for experiments that they hope will support their theories. Their first experiment will be to trap light in a crystal and observe the reaction of a neutron inside the circle.

Mallett will insert polarized neutrons (neutrons that all spin in one direction) into the center of the circulating light. If he sees a change in their spin he will know that space is indeed being twisted inside of the crystal.

Should this experiment prove successful, the team will apply for funding to conduct studies to see if time bending is evident inside the circle of light.

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