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Creating the Time Machine

by Douglas Chapman

Dr. Ronald L. Mallett's father died during the mid-1950s when his son was ten years old. The grief-stricken young Ronald delved into science fiction and found something that saved him from deep depression — the prospect of building a machine for traveling in time. He discovered this idea in the Classics Illustrated comic book adaptation of H. G. Wells's classic novel The Time Machine.

With such a device, Dr. Mallett could go back in time and warn his father about the heart attack that felled him — and possibly change the future.

A Book with a Mission

Now, Mallett (who has held a PhD in physics since 1973) has written a book (with Bruce Henderson) called Time Traveler: A Scientist's Personal Mission To Make Time Travel A Reality. It is about his quest to build such a machine. This comes after fifty years of scientific work, including as a physics professor at the University of Connecticut. He has researched black holes, quantum cosmology, general relativity and gravitation, plus — of course — time travel. He is looking for financing for his project Space-time Twisting by Light (STL), and hopes the book will assist this endeavor.

His idea for time travel is based on concepts that are already deemed plausible by some. Enormous objects, such as planets and stars can bend time and space. Dr. Mallett and other scientists believe that, because of its energy, light can bend the space/time continuum too.

Dr. Mallett's concept for a time machine is based on the notion of using a cylinder with laser beams (in a ring laser) intersecting to create a huge light tunnel in which objects could be manipulated through time.

For a long time, Dr. Mallett did not reveal the direction of his investigations, because he was concerned that he might be termed a crackpot by other scientists, Because of this, assistance on time travel from fellow scientists mostly eluded him until 1998, when he was told by an astrophysicist about all the work others were doing on time travel theory. That re-energized him at a difficult point in his life, and prompted him to be more open about his interest in time travel. This book is one of the results. It is designed to encourage the young to take on the complexities of science, and fulfill their "impossible" dreams. Each concept connected to Mallett's quest is explained at the point where it came into his life – and is presented with the clarity he honed as a university lecturer. Thus he makes the theoretical personal.

The Making of a Scientist

His enthusiasm is contagious as he tells of the people, books, ideas and films that inspired him along the way. Albert Einstein's life and work is the core of Mallett's thought. Many speculations have also fed his soul. Fantastic movies such as The Time Machine, Somewhere in Time, and the Back to the Future series have served to spur his imagination, as have television episodes like "The City on the Edge of Forever" on Star Trek and "The Man Who Was Never Born" on Outer Limits.

In his early reading, Mallett found out that (as stated in Time Traveler): "Time was, in fact, a physical object that could be worked with and changed." His other studies were rewarding as well. High school brought progress in electronics and algebra. He learned that: "in relativity physics, time is changed by motion...." This showed him that what he sought was possible.

During spring 1968, while Mallett was working as a lab technician, he was urged by research scientist Dr. Scott Bonis to return to school. Bonis made it clear that Mallett should become a professional physicist. Mallett did so, and by 1973 he was working as an industrial scientist in Connecticut, where he developed mathematical models for the uses of lasers. This was an important step, as it turned out, for later developments in his time travel research.

Other things important to potential time travel caught his interest, including frame dragging — in which space is stirred. This stirring is important in rotating black holes, where space is dragged around the holes. If frame dragging occurs in space, Mallett observes in his book, "then the conditions for closed time loops might also exist." As such, frame dragging would be part and parcel of time travel, and travel into the past would be done along the loops.

Mallett got opportunities to work with a number of his scientific idols. On a sabbatical leave from his associate professorship at the University of Connecticut that he took from 1982-1983, he worked, as a visiting scholar, with the legendary John Wheeler (the physicist who coined the term "black hole") at the Center for Theoretical Physics. At this time Mallett also became aware of the work of Stephen Hawking, which inspired new directions in Mallett's own undertaking.

Progress in Time

After further achievements (full professorship in 1987, more research, etc.) and personal setbacks, Mallett came to understand — as he recounts in Time Traveler about his thought during the late 1990s — that if he "...could show that the gravitational field of a circulating light beam in a ring laser could produce frame dragging, this could also imply that the circulating beam of light could lead to closed time-like loops." A circulating light beam could stir empty space. Space and time are connected, as noted in Einstein's general theory of relativity. So, the twisting of space would twist time. Dr. Mallett published a relevant paper in 2000 entitled "Weak gravitational field of the electromagnetic radiation in a ring laser" (Physics Letters A 269, 214-217).

Mallett, being a theoretical physicist who deals in mathematics and concepts, needed an experimentalist. To test his theory in the material world, he required the skills of someone who could engineer test devices. These abilities he found — at his University of Connecticut home base — in Professor Chandra Roychoudhuri, who specializes in photonics, a newish field which largely deals in laser light, especially as regards the control of the flow. Mallett and Roychoudhuri conceived the use of photonics crystals in place of optical fibers as a way to form the necessary path to form a light cylinder (of the sort that would be needed for the time machine).

Mallett still concentrated on the mathematics, and modeled what he needed: "When I worked the numbers and the frame dragging effect of a circulating light cylinder became strong enough, the circle in space turned into a circle in time." Time was affected outside the infinitely long cylinder of light; there were "closed loops in time" making backwards time travel possible. By 2002, he had mathematically formulated the most important basics for a possible time machine.

Promising Results

A result was one of his key papers, entitled "The Gravitational Field of a Circulating Light Beam," published in Foundations of Physics in 2003.

Such developments did not go unnoticed. New Scientist had spotlighted Dr. Mallett's work in its May 19, 2001 issue. His ideas also got good publicity in the 2003 Learning Channel documentary, The World's First Time Machine. After that, the news media kept tabs on Professor Mallett.

There was an important limitation to his concept of a time machine, in that nothing could theoretically travel back before the machine was first activated. If such a device was turned on and kept on, future things and people could be sent back as far as when the machine was put into use, but could not visit a time before it was working. So Mallett's major motivation for starting his life's work would not be realized by his actual achievement. His interests in the matter changed, necessarily, to curiosity and "sweet science."

The limitation may eventually be worked around. Humanity may not have seen visitors from the future because the first time machine has not yet been activated, notes Mallett. However, if entities elsewhere in the universe turned on such a machine of their own a long time ago, there may be ways to access the past once we are in contact with them.

But that is, of course, speculation more useful in the future. Early practical steps towards the needed mechanism have already been taken. In July 2, 2003, Dr. Mallett filed a patent application for a LOTART (Laser Optical Time machine And Receiver Transmitter). With a completed machine, subatomic particles and/or information could be sent back. A provisional patent was granted in August 2003.

The finale of the book is his present attempt to obtain funding for experiments that may prove important aspects of his theory. One planned experiment, using four lasers to simulate a circular beam (and to presumably knock neutrons off-kilter), was mentioned in the media during 2007. Coming up with a way to measure the presence of closed time-like loops is an important present project, which — if successful — would "prove the concept of a circulating light time machine." Mallett and his colleagues are not going after military funding, because of the potential of the work being taken away from them.

The book does not take into account that, if his invention is made operational, every military in the world will likely covet it. Coercions might be brought to bear, probably greater than any that Dr. Mallett previously experienced in a life not free of uncomfortable pressures.


Not all bases are covered; Dr. Mallett and his co-writer can only attend to so much in a limited space.

Dr. David Whitehouse, an astronomer and writer quoted by the BBC, thinks science needs more people like Dr. Mallett, whether misguided or wrong, since: "Being wrong is an essential part of investigating the universe."

It also makes for spirited discussions.

Ken Olum and Allen Everett, in a 2005 paper, have discovered possible problems with Mallett's analyses. A major one is that, with the lasers in present use, the ring required for the machine would be bigger than the known universe.

But there are other factors, such as the speed of light in a medium, that could alter such objections. Mallett, however, has discarded the idea of utilizing slowed light as a means of energy reduction.

Such back-and-forth between scientists may well define the terms under which Dr. Mallett's idea — or some variant — could provide the basis for the first practical means of time travel.


BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/6933059.stm, 8/6/07

Faculty — Ronald L. Mallett, http://www.physics.uconn.edu/~mallett/main/main.htm

Dr. Ronald L. Mallett, with Bruce Henderson, Time Traveler: A Scientist's Personal Mission To Make Time Travel A Reality (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2006)

Ken D. Olum and Allen Everett, "Can a circulating light beam produce a time machine?", Foundations of Physics Letters 18: 379-385. arXiv:gr-qc/0410078 (2005)

Ronald L. Mallett, "Weak gravitational field of the electromagnetic radiation in a ring laser," Physics Letters A, 269, pp. 214-217 (Received 19 January 2000; accepted 3 April 2000), http://www.physics.uconn.edu/~mallett/Mallett2000.pdf

Ronald L. Mallett, "The Gravitational Field of a Circulating Light Beam," Foundations of Physics, Vol. 33, No. 9, p. 1307 (September 2003; received April 27, 2003), http://www.physics.uconn.edu/~mallett/Mallett2003.pdf

Ronald Mallett — Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_Mallett

New Haven Register, 2/11/07

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