Meet Mallett, the scientist who believes it is possible to travel back to time. He has spent his lifetime working on a time machine with the aim of traveling back in time and this is not a dream
This is so hard for some us to believe, there are a lot of people who believe the past is just another country to visit and sometimes another place they can visit.
Whereas actual travel is limited only by how much cash we can spare, visa requests and flight terminations, exploration to times gone by is limited by the cold, hard laws of physics.
probably it’s not.
Joining the ranks of movie creators like Doc Brown of “Back to the Future” are a few real-life scientists presently trying to realize the dream of rolling back the clock to travel to the final destination.
Among them is Ron Mallett, an astrophysicist who has committed much of his adult life to the notion that time travel is achievable. He’s come up with the scientific equations and principles upon which he says a time machine could be built.
While acknowledging that his theories and designs are unlikely to allow time travel in his lifetime, for years he’s been working in parallel to a respected academic career to fulfill his dream of venturing back in time to see his darling father again.
Mallett was 10 years old when his father died unexpectedly, of a heart attack, an event that the scientist says changed the track of his life forever.
“For me, the sun rose and set on him, he was just the center of things,” he tells CNN Travel. “Even today, after all of these years, there’s still an unreality about it for me.”
Mallett’s father, a TV repairman, instilled in his son a love of reading and encouraged his budding passion for science. About a year after his father’s death, a grieving Mallett stumbled across an illustrated version of the classic sci-fi novel “The Time Machine.”
“The book that changed my life,” he says.
Thanks to the ingenuity of author H.G. Wells, suddenly Mallett felt his family misfortune open not an end but a beginning.
Sixty years later, 74-year-old Mallett is a professor of physics at the University of Connecticut. He’s spent his profession scrutinizing black holes and general relativity — the theories of space, time and gravity prominently discovered by Albert Einstein.
Mallett has also been theorizing about time travel, in the course of which he has embarked on his own personal journey: a complex and often contentious quest to build a machine capable of visiting the past.
He’s still far away from his intention, some would argue he’ll never get there, but his journey makes for a poignant story that dwells on the power of love, the potency of childhood dreams and the human desire to control destiny in an incomprehensible universe.
Mallett first encountered the idea of time travel back in the 1950s.
“We hadn’t even gone into space,” he recalls. “And people weren’t even sure if we could.”
Back in New York City’s Bronx neighborhood with his family, and later in Pennsylvania, Mallett’s family tussled for money.
As a self-described “bookworm” he still found ways to get hold of reading material, finding comfort, after his father’s death, among the shelves of the local Salvation Army bookstore.
It was here that Mallett came across the writings of Einstein, his next key motivation.
He continued poring over science books throughout his teenage years and, after leaving high school, aimed for college via the G.I. Bill which supports US military veterans in their post-service education.
He enlisted in the US Air Force, where he served for four years, including deployment to Vietnam.
Ultimately, Mallett made it to academia. He gained a bachelor’s degree in physics, followed by a master’s and a doctorate, specializing in Einstein’s theory.
His first job was working on lasers at United Technologies, an aircraft builder, looking into how they could be used to boreholes in the turbine blades of jet engines.
After a couple of years of applying mathematical theories in this practice setting, Mallet joined the University of Connecticut (UCONN) as an assistant professor of physics.
Mallett began speaking publicly about his dreams once UCONN made him a tenured professor, an open-ended academic position that grants holders the freedom to work largely free from fear of being sacked.
“I wanted to make sure that I got to that pinnacle of professionalism,” he says, “Even then I was a bit reluctant.”
He was aware of the “mad professor” stereotype. He wanted to certify that his ambitions weren’t scorned and his job endangered.
But when Mallett began speaking openly about his ideas, he found they struck a chord with many others, something he says shows the universality of the desire to revisit the past. We all have, he says, regrets, or past decisions we wonder about, or people we’ve lost who we long to see again.
“People started contacting me, literally from all over the world about the possibility of going back in time,” he says.
“To put it in a nutshell, Einstein said that time can be affected by speed,” says Mallett.
Mallett sets an example of astronauts traversing space in a rocket that’s traveling close to the speed of light. Time would pass differently on Earth than it would for the people in the rocket.
“They could actually come back finding out that they’re only a few years older, but decades have passed here on Earth,” he says.
Mallett points to the 1968 sci-fi classic movie “Planet of the Apes,” at the end of which [spoiler alert] an astronaut realizes that he hasn’t traveled to a distant, ape-ruled planet, but merely returned to Earth in a post-apocalyptic future in which mankind has been subjugated by simians.
“That is an accurate representation of Einstein’s special theory of relativity,” says Mallet. “So, the upshot is that, according to the special theory of relativity, if you’re traveling fast enough, you respectively are traveling through time. And effectively, that would be a representation of time travel.”
However, this is all about going forward not backward, so how would this help Mallett’s quest to be reunited with his father?
The theory of relativity by Einstein is based on the concept of gravity and reflects how time is affected by gravity.
“What Einstein meant by that is the stronger gravity is, the more time will slow down,” says Mallett.
Einstein’s general theory of relativity says that what we call the force of gravity isn’t a force at all, it’s actually the bending of space by a massive object.
“If you can bend space, there’s a possibility of you twisting space,” says Mallett.
“In Einstein’s theory, what we call space also involves time — that’s why it’s called space-time, whatever it is you do to space also happens to time.”
Mallett postulates that by twisting time into a loop, one could travel from the future back to the past and then back to the future. And this is the idea of a wormhole, a sort of tunnel with two openings.
Mallett proposes that light could also be used to affect time via something called a ring laser.
He’s created a model exemplifying how lasers could be used to create a circulating beam of light that twists space and time stirred by his first job experimenting with lasers’ effect on airplane jet engines.
“It turned out my understanding about lasers eventually helped me in my breakthrough with understanding how I might be able to find a whole new way for the basis of a time machine,” says Mallett.
“By studying the type of gravitational field that was produced by a ring laser, this could lead to a new way of looking at the possibility of a time machine based on a circulating beam of light.”
Mallett’s also got a theoretical equation that, he contends, proves this would work.
“Eventually a circulating beam of laser lights could act as a sort of a time machine and cause a twisting of time that would allow you to go back into the past,” he says.
There’s a snag though a pretty big one.
“You can send information back, but you can only send it back to the point at which you turn the machine on,” says Mallett.
While his quest to go back to the 1950s isn’t anywhere close to reality, he remains hopeful and continues to ponder possibilities.
Could there be a not too far future in which time travel is part of our daily reality? After all, we’re entering a new decade in which once fanciful concepts like space tourism and hyperloop trains are entering the realms of possibility.
Maybe, but not everyone thinks so.
“Time travel into the past is allowed, potentially, in our theory of general relativity, how we understand gravity,” says Paul Sutter, an astrophysicist who hosts a podcast called “Ask a Spaceman!”
“But every time we try to concoct a theoretical time travel device, some other bit of physics busts in and breaks up the party.”
Sutter says he is aware of Mallett’s work and thinks it’s interesting, if not necessarily on track to deliver results.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily going to be fruitful, because I do think that there are deep flaws in his mathematics and his theory, and so a practical device seems unattainable.”
Serious denunciation of Mallett’s theory was voiced in 2005 by Ken D. Olum and Allen Everett, of the Institute of Cosmology, Department of Physics and Astronomy at Tufts University. They said they’d found holes in Mallett’s equation and the practicality of his proposed device.
The British science writer Brian Clegg looks more approvingly on Mallett’s ideas, he also profiled the scientist in his book, “How to Build a Time Machine.”
“While not everyone agrees that his intended device would work, I think it’s an interesting enough proposition to go for an experimental trial,” says Clegg.
“If it did work, it should be stressed that it’s not a practical time machine, it would simply produce a tiny but measurable effect, which would demonstrate the principle.”
Mallett is quick to clarify that his ideas are theoretical.
He says he’s currently trying to get funds to conduct real-life tryouts.
“It’s not like movies,” says Mallett. “It’s not going happen at the end of two hours, at the cost of whatever it is you pay for the movie ticket. It’s going to cost.”
Hollywood has come calling for Mallett a few times. A proposed adaptation of “The Time Traveler,” an autobiography he co-authored in 2008, fell through despite the involvement of celebrated director Spike Lee.
Mallett says a major production company has now bought the rights to his story and there’s another cinematic project in the works.
Even after a lifetime spent investigating time travel, Mallet may never physically go back to 1950s New York.
But, thanks to the magic of cinema, he may yet get a glimpse of the past, that “foreign country”, and, in a way, meet his father one last time.
“The idea I will actually be able to see my father on the big screen, it will almost be like bringing him back to life for me,” says Mallett, poignantly.