Join Plus+ and get exclusive shows and extensions! Subscribe Today!

A Physicist Wants to Bend Time with Lasers to Save His Father

Beginning with the 1895 publication of the H. G. Wells novella The Time Machine, popular culture has been fascinated with the idea of inventing machines capable of sending humans through time. Despite our best efforts and a whole lot of dubious claims, though, true time travel seems as if it will remain the stuff of science fiction.

Who knows, though? Science and technology occasionally undergo paradigm shifts which make the impossible a reality, after all. The concept of devices which enable people to instantaneously see and hear other people on the opposite side of the world would have seemed like outlandish fantasy just a century ago, yet here you are watching live footage of cave rescues in Thailand while on the toilet and sending pictures of your naughty bits to that Czech girl you met on the train while backpacking through eastern Europe, all with a machine that fits in your pocket.

Will advances in technology someday allow us to travel back in time and make sure that mustard gas finishes off Hitler during World War I this time or, more importantly, fix all those embarrassing faux pas we made in middle school? One University of Connecticut physicist might thinks he may be able to some day make that all possible. Professor Ron Mallett recently met with interviewers the BBC’s Horizon science series to discuss a time machine design he believes might soon make time travel a reality.

I think of myself as being an ordinary person with a passion, and my passion is the possibility of time travel. If I could build a time machine, then I could go back into the past and see my father again and maybe save his life and change everything.

That’s how Mallett describes his quest to someday achieve time travel and save his father from an untimely death at age 33. Mallett has spent his life dreaming of saving his father ever since reading The Time Machine when he was just eleven years old. After researching the concept of time travel for decades, Mallett now believes he has a design that could theoretically work – with one hitch: the device would need an unbelievable, as yet impossible amount of energy to power. And a working shrink ray. But a man can dream, can’t he?

Mallett’s design centers around a vortex of incredibly intense lasers which generate a rapidly swirling beam of light. If that light could be spun fast enough, Mallett believes spacetime itself could become twisted “like stirring a cup of coffee:”

If space is being twisted strongly enough, this linear timeline is going to be twisted into a loop. If time all of a sudden is twisted into a loop that allows us the possibility of travelling into the past.

Several recent discoveries in quantum physics have suggested that affecting matter in the present can affect matter in the past, but quantum entanglement is one thing, and travelling back in time to attend Stephen Hawking’s funeral is quite another. Will a physics professor’s dream of swirling lasers one day enable use to right the wrongs of the past, or is this merely a case of one man’s obsession to bring his father back to life?