Time travel, once considered a science-fiction fantasy, is becoming reality. Ronald Mallett, a theoretical physicist at the University of Connecticut, is trying to design a working time machine.
Mallett’s long journey began when he was 10, when he experienced the devastating death of his father.
“The sun rose and set on my father,” he said.
IF YOU GO
What: Presentation of documentary “The World’s First Time Machine” and discussion of Ronald Mallett’s book, “The Time Traveler’’
Times: 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oberlin Public Library; and 7 p.m. Thursday, Elyria Public Library West River Branch
Not long afterward, Mallett read a comic book version of H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine,’’ — a story about a man who builds a machine to travel through time. The story prompted Mallett to ponder whether he could go back in time to warn his father of his impending death.
Mallett attempted to build a duplicate of H.G. Wells’ time machine. When he met with failure, he understood that he lacked the scientific understanding that was necessary. He then read a book about the scientific work of Einstein and realized this was instrumental to what he wanted to accomplish.
So began the journey that has shaped his life.
For years, he was self-taught, reading everything he could find that related to physics, Einstein, and the possibility of time travel. He went on to receive his doctorate in physics from Penn State University.
For the most part, he remained silent about his secret mission to invent a time machine. He feared ridicule and skepticism from fellow scientists, even as he became increasingly convinced that time travel was indeed a real possibility.
It wasn’t until 1999 that Mallett began to make real progress in his research.
That’s when Mallett discovered that light can be used to control time. His theory? Light can affect gravity, gravity can affect time — thus light can affect time.
“The effect light has on space and time is very important because space and time are connected to each other,” Mallett explained. “If you take a circulating beam of light, you can actually cause empty space to get swirled around.”
“In Einstein’s theory, whatever you do to space also happens to time,” Mallett said. “If I twist space around long enough, what will actually happen is I will eventually twist time.”
He submitted a paper with his findings to a scientific journal. After his formula was validated by an expert in the field, the paper was accepted and published.
Soon, Mallett began sharing his findings at university colloquiums, and his work began to catch the attention of the media. In publications as diverse as the Wall Street Journal and Rolling Stone, he was being proclaimed as the inventor of the first time machine. A film director from England even produced a documentary, “The World’s First Time Machine.”
Mallett and a research partner are now involved in the Space-Time Twisting By Light Project, in which they are designing a prototype “to send subatomic particles and information back into the past.”
“People have this notion that someone goes back in his garage and comes out with this thing like in the movies,” Mallett said.
Not quite, he said.
The actual process is far more complex and involves the need for an enormous amount of funding. The first phase of the project will cost $250,000.
“Where we’re at right now is trying to get sufficient funding for the experiments,” Mallett said.
Mallett also is on tour to promote his book, “Time Traveler,’’ “to give the public an understanding of the fact that we really are on the verge of time travel.” He’ll speak at both the Oberlin and Elyria libraries this week.
He also wants people “to understand what’s going on in physics by way of my own personal story” – how one boy’s heartbreak became the catalyst for a revolutionary scientific breakthrough, he said.
Contact Dale Sheffield at 329-7155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.