The Science and Technology of Time Travel May be Less Far-Fetched as it Sounds

Prof. Mallett’s breakthrough research on time travel has been featured extensively in the media around the world, including print media such as New Scientist, the Village Voice, the Boston Globe, Rolling Stone magazine and The Wall Street Journal, and broadcast media such as NPR’s This American Life, the History Channel, the National Geographic Channel, the Science Channel, ABC’s Good Morning America and NBC’s Today Show.

By Maria Anna van Driel,

In a universe so vast, is there any hope of us traveling fast enough so that we could visit the far-off realms of space? Will we ever be able to plant a flag in the most distant quadrants of the cosmos? At this point in time we may be as far from reaching other stars as Leonardo da Vinci was from realizing an airplane but it has not stopped scientists from imagining the theoretical possibilities of interstellar travel.

Even time travel is somewhat unique in science fiction, it has long been the Holy Grail for modern science. Some say we will never be able to travel in time, while others believe we are close to achieving the impossible. But what if time travel already exists? According to general relativity – this might actually work. However, when it comes to our understanding of the Universe, general relativity may not be the final word. Theoretical physicist and Professor Emeritus Ronald L. Mallett says there is another way what makes traveling into the past a real option.

“In Einstein’s theory not only matter can create gravity but light itself can create gravity, explains Professor Mallett during the awe-inspiring Skype interview I had with him on the 4th of November 2019. “Even though light does not have matter, it has energy what can create gravity. And that is where my breakthrough is based on. If gravity can affect time and light can create gravity, then light can affect time.”

Although the concept of travelling in time via mechanical means was first popularized more than a century ago in 1895 by HG Wells’ novel “The Time Machine”, which was the first novel what inspired the young Ronald Lawrence Mallett to explore the mind-boggling scientific possibilities of time travel, Prof. Mallett has yet not published a description of a full scale version of his device of which the technology is based upon a ring laser’s properties in the context of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. But he has agreed with his critics that to distort space-time, to the necessary degree, would require a huge amount of energy, like stellar quantities. Nowadays, Prof. Mallett, who is an expert on Albert Einstein’s theories, still insists that time travel could become a reality.

Is time travel feasible? Did we already tackle the energy barrier and jumped through time and created new universe branches out into the future? And is there is a possibility that something has been done in the present, that a laser optical time machine and receiver transmitter (LOTART), described by Professor Mallett in his book “Time Traveler: A Scientist’s Personal Mission To Make Time Travel A Reality”, will still exist in the future?

To gain a better insight in both the rules which govern time travel and whether time travel is possible and not just the stuff of science fiction, I reached out to contact time travel specialist Professor Ronald L. Mallett and gained the privilege to meet him via a Skype conversation.

For the jaw-dropping concept of travelling through time and Prof. Ronald L. Mallett’s incredible research I can recommend the You Tube documentary “The World’s First Time Machine” in where he explains his theories on time travel and the journey that led him to his field of research.


Prof. Mallett received his B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. in physics from the Pennsylvania State University. He worked for United Technologies from 1973-5, and in 1975 joined the physics faculty at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. Mallett has published numerous papers on black holes and cosmology in professional journals.

Welcome Professor Mallett, I appreciate the time you took for letting us peer into your career as a theoretical physicist and some of your ideas, theories and research within this intriguing topic of Time Travel.

Q: You are a well known Theoretical physicist and an expert in the one branch of science that allows you to tinker with time. But for those people who don’t know much about your background, can you tell us a little about yourself? Who is Ronald Lawrence Mallett?

Prof. Mallett: I am a theoretical physicist and Professor emeritus and a member of both the American Physical Society and the National Society of Black Physicists. I grew up in the Bronx, New York and I was the oldest of 4 children. As I was growing up my father, who was a TV-repairman and the centre of my life, would give me toys like for instance a gyroscope and a crystal radio set. I love reading and I go to the movies for entertainment.

Q: After your father passed on you decided to become a scientist at the age of ten. Was it already clear to you that you would study Physics?

Prof. Mallett: Approximately a year after my father had passed on I read H. C. Wells, “The Time Machine” what contained a phrase that caught my attention. It said; “Scientific people know very well that time is only a kind of space and we could move forward and backward in time just as we can move forward and backward in space.”

For me ‘that’ was the key phrasing that there was a true possibility for us to travel through time and space. It was a life preserver, like a revelation. I thought, that, if we could travel back in time, I can build a time machine and go back in time to see my father again and maybe change things…save his life. And that became an obsession for me. This is the reason why I became interested in physics and time travel.

Q: Your research is based on the two theories of Albert Einstein. How did you become familiar with Einstein’s work?

Prof. Mallett: I visit a Salvation Army bookstore where I came across the book “The Universe and Dr. Einstein”. The cover showed Albert Einstein standing next to an hourglass. And since he was standing next to an hourglass, I thought, maybe he had something to do with time. So, I bought the book. The reading was rough going for me at the age of 11 but I did pick up the essence of it. It said that, in Newton’s theory, nothing can alter time but Einstein claimed that it is possible to alter time. To me it meant that if I could understand what Einstein meant with that, it would mean that it could lead to the scientific possibility of building a time machine. And that was the beginning of my interest in Einstein’s work.

Q: What is time travel from a scientific point of view?

Prof. Mallett: Einstein has said that there are two ways of altering time. In 1905 he developed the Special Theory of Relativity the essence of which is that time is affected by speed. And in 1915 he developed the theory of General Relativity which speaks of gravity. What Einstein meant by the Special Theory of Relativity is that the faster a clock moves the more time slows down.

Imagine an astronaut who will go out into space and is traveling close to the speed of light to, let’s say, a star that is about 25 light-years remote from Earth. For those who stay behind it will appear that it took the astronaut 50 years to go out into space and to come back to Earth. But time has slowed down to such a point that, for the astronaut, only 10 years has past. So, 50 years have passed on Earth but the astronaut has only aged 10 years. And that is what we mean with time travel into the future.

Q: But that is only travelling forwards. What about travelling backwards in time?

Prof. Mallett: Unfortunately, no matter how fast you will travel, you cannot travel back into the past.The light barrier keeps us from going faster than the speed of light (c). Straightforward, the problem lies in the energy barrier. Einstein’s equation E=mc2 shows that matter and energy is equivalent to each other. When you have a small amount of matter you can create a large amount of energy. If you have enough amount of energy you can create mass. But the equation works the other way too.

Let’s suppose you have built a rocket that goes close to the speed of light c. If you give it enough energy the rocket will go faster but some of the injected energy will go into the mass of the rocket itself what makes it heavier. This means that you need to provide it with more energy for the rocket to keep its speed. But the more energy you inject, the more weight the rocket will gain until it reaches a point it will stop or not leaving Earth at all. So, if you want to let a rocket travel at c you need an infinite amount of energy. This infinite amount of energy is a way of saying, ‘you cannot do it’. And that is why you cannot travel faster than c. This, unfortunately, also means that we cannot travel to the past by speed. But there is another way in where gravity can be thought of as a medium rather than a force.

According to Einstein, what we call today “the force of gravity” isn’t a force at all. It’s actually a bending of space. The simplest way of thinking about it is to imagine a rubber sheet, similar to a trampoline. When you put a bowling ball on the rubber sheet it starts to bend. Now, if you take a marble and put it on that rubber sheet it will roll down towards the bowling ball. Imagine that the rubber sheet being transparent. The only thing you will see is the bowling ball and the marble. Putting the marble on the transparent sheet the visible effect will be the marble moving towards the bowling ball. As a result it will appear as though the bowling ball is directly attracting the marble but what is actually happening is that the marble is moving towards the bowling ball due to the fact that the transparent sheet is being curved by the bowling ball. According to Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity this is analogous to what the sun is doing to empty space. In other words, the sun is curving the empty space and the earth is moving in that curved space. So gravity is the curving of space.

Now this bending of space also leads to the bending of time.

The bending of time appears to us as clock slowing down. The more space is curved, the more time slows down. Since time can be bent then there may be ways twisting it so we can travel to the past.

Q: How realistic is the possible that a practicable working time machine is sending information in the form of subatomic particles or an object back into the past?

Prof. Mallett: From a science fiction point of view people have become familiar with the idea of sending an object or even a human being through time. But sending information through time can be much more important then sending an object through time. However, I feel that with current technology it is possible, at the very least, to send subatomic particles back into the past.

Once I received a letter from Germany what contained several photos. The first photo showed a middle aged couple with a young woman. The next photo showed the young woman being happy and in full health. The third photo showed a mangled car. The fourth photo, what actually brought tears to my eyes, showed the young woman in a coffin. The middle aged couple, who wrote me the letter, were the parents of this young woman who was killed in a car accident. The father wanted to know if it was possible to send information back in time for his daughter not to step into that car. And this is why, in some ways, sending information is more important then sending back an object through time.

“Time Traveler: A Scientist’s Personal Mission to Make Time Travel a Reality” has been translated into Korean, Chinese, and Japanese. Award-winning filmmaker Spike Lee has written a script for a feature film of the memoir.

Q: Sending information through time in order to prevent an event from happening, does that not cause distortions in a parallel universe or time line?

Prof. Mallett: There a several schools of thought concerning the Grandfather Paradox. One of them is that when you go back in time you cause a real ripple effect what alters everyone’s reality entirely.

Another view is the “Many-worlds interpretation” which is a view a myriad of physicists like. The parallel universe notion was not invented to deal with time travel. Back in 1957 physicist Hugh Everett III wanted to apply the Quantum theory to the universe as a whole. Now the Quantum theory is based on the Heisenberg uncertainty principle what says that you cannot predict exactly what is going to happen in the future. It shows the probability of a future.

However, Everett’s research led to the following strange prediction; suppose you go to a restaurant and have breakfast. As you are looking at the menu, you see item A and item B and you have chosen item B. According to Everett there is now an actual split of the universe in where there is a Maria who has chosen item B but there is also a Maria who has chosen item A. Although both Maria’s do not know each other, they are both real but in separated universes. What Everett did was, he took out the probability and said that both are actually happening. This is called “Super Space”.

Another view on this paradox is the applying of Everett’s notion of the Many-worlds interpretation to time travel by physicist David Deutsch. What he found was that when you travel to the past, there will be a split in that particular universe as soon as you arrive. And so, due to splitting of that particular universe, you could find yourself in a universe in which you can prevent your grandparents for meeting each other. You will then find yourself in a weird universe in which you were never born. However, there is the other universe in which you don’t arrive and in that universe your grandparents meeting each other and eventually you were born. You will find that you cannot go back to your original universe and keep ending up in a parallel universe. As a result David Deutsch’s theory actually resolves the Grandfather Paradox.

Q: How would the technology, or device, what would transmit subatomic particles back into the past due to twisting space and thus time, look like?

Prof. Mallett: Information could be sent to the past in binary form using subatomic particles. A neutron is a subatomic particle that has only two directions of spin. Its axis of spin can be either point up or down. If we assigned the number 1 to the spin up direction and the number 0 to the spin down direction then we can send information by using a stream of neutrons. For example, a stream of neutrons with spin up, spin down, spin down would correspond to 100 which is the binary representation of the number 4. Since computers operate using a binary code of ones and zeros then the information could be read by computers interfaced with suitable neutron detectors.

Q: How, if possible, does the behaviour of a Black Hole correlate with Time Travel?

Prof. Mallett: First you need a necessary condition which is the twisting of space, which is caused by gravity, and that will lead to the twisting of time, which is caused by rotation, which is the sufficient condition. But the amount of energy that seems to twist space isn’t as great as the energy that seems to twist time. In other words, the rotation of the Earth can cause a twisting in space but the energy of a, for instance, rotating Black Hole can be great enough to lead to the twisting of time. A rotating Black Hole not only allows you to travel to the future but can also lead to loops in time which leads to the possibility of you traveling back into the past. 

In fact Kurt Gödel, a mathematician and known for his logic, was one of the earliest scientists who looked at the notion of a rotating universe. If the universe was rotating as a hole, he had solved Einstein’s gravitation equations and was able to show that it leads to loops in time which leads to the real possibility to time travel. For me that was one of the most important papers being published and convinced me that Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity was the way to go for me to understand the possibility of time traveling to the past.

“At times I did have doubts about achieving my goal. What sustained me and continues to drive me forward is the love that I had and still have for my father.”

Q: Today you are a Professor Emeritus and Research Professor of Physics at the University of Connecticut, and you can look back on an impressive career and much to be proud of; what would you say is a moment in your career that stands out as most meaningful?

Prof. Mallett: The moment of my career that really stands out for me was when I had my breakthrough realizing that a circulating beam of laser light could lead to a twisting of space and time and that this could result in time travel to the past. This resulted in my breakthrough paper “Weak Gravitational Field of the Electromagnetic Radiation in a Ring Laser” being accepted and published in the professional journal Physics Letters A. It was at this point that I felt that my father would be proud of me.

Q: Can you explain to our readers how this ‘closed loop’ or ‘ring laser’ works whereby it is possible to travel to the past and to the future?

Prof. Mallett: First of all, the bending of space causes the bending time whereby this bending is slowing down the time. But there is another effect that can occur as well. It turns out that you not only can ‘bend’ time but you can also ‘twist’ time. Newton’s theory says that the only thing that creates gravity is matter, in Einstein’s theory not only matter can create gravity but light itself can create gravity. Even though light does not have matter, however, it contains energy what can create gravity. And this is what my breakthrough is based on. If gravity can affect time and light can create gravity then light can affect time.

This ‘device’ I describe in my book “Time Traveler: A Scientist’s Personal Mission to Make Time Travel a Reality” as a ‘ring laser’, is capable of generating an intense, coherent, and continuously circulating beam of light. At the corners of the device mirrors are placed of which the first mirror is a semi-reflecting mirror. It allows light to come through in one single action. The other mirrors reflect the light what in turn creates a loop of light. Through the light circulating the empty space in the centre is starting to be twisted. This phenomenon is known as ‘inertial frame-dragging’. If a Neutron is placed in the centre of the laser, the Neutron start moving around and that is how we would know that space is being twisted.

Q: How long do you expect it will take before a practicable time machine will be fact?

Prof. Mallett: That is a very interesting question. In 2018 I was interviewed by NBC News and they asked me the same question. My reply was “Funding”. Many people do not realize how expensive these experiments are. For example, in 2017 the Nobel Prize was won for the discovery of gravitational waves. The experiment observed the collision of two Black Holes which led to the vibrations of empty space that we call gravity waves, which was already predicted by Einstein about 100 years ago, had costs one billion dollars. This also applies to, for example, space programs. For people to travel to the moon, that costs billions of dollars. Not to speak of the Large Hadron collider what cost in the range of 10 billion dollars.

We have submitted my idea of twisting of space, not twisting of time, to the National Science Foundation and that was something they said was doable. But for us to do feasibility study alone is going to costs about a quarter of million dollars (250,000 dollars). Even though I have a collaborator, who is a specialist in lasers, scientific progress is not something you can predict due to, for instance, the competition with other projects. However, let’s suppose that we can get adequate amount of funding for it, it will take probably 5 years to demonstrate the effect of space twisting. What we are hoping to learn from the first part is how to overcome the energy barrier that my critics have correctly talked about regarding time twisting. This second part can easily take 10 years, or more, after the first part has accomplished. We don’t know yet. We can only see that when the energy barrier has been overcome.  

“To understand what happened at the moment of creation requires a theory that successfully combines quantum mechanics and general relativity. No completely successful theory yet exists. What happened before the moment of creation is open to speculation.”

Q: In the prologue of your book you write; ‘Since the age of eleven, I had only told a few confidants about my secret dream.’ ‘…my hope for turning one man’s favorite science fiction fantasies into a scientific reality.’  How did you experienced this remarkable moment and how the audience reacted on your work being presented in great detail?

Prof. Mallett: I was really nerves.Especially because the person who gave a talk before me was actually was a very well known and respected physicist Bryce DeWitt. I felt proud when, at the end of my talk, DeWitt said; “I don’t know if you ever see your father. But I do know he would have been proud of you.”

My critics where not criticizing my equations but the possibility of realizing the technology behind it all. So you might say that the highest form of praise is when your colleagues feel that it is worth their while to actually say that what you have done is serious and critique it.

Q: Not only are you seen as a true pioneer in describing the technology of a real practicable working time machine, what is indeed a culmination of a lifelong quest, you also authored a book about your work. What inspired you to write the book, “Time Traveler; A Scientists Mission To Make Time Travel A Reality!?

Prof. Mallett: I wrote “Time Traveler” as both an autobiography and popular science book to make the general public aware of the real scientific possibility of time travel based on Einstein’s theories of relativity and to also give insight into the struggles that I had to overcome with poverty and prejudice as an African-American to acquire the knowledge necessary to achieve my goal. My hope was that the book would be informative and inspirational.

Q: What does the future holds for your books? 

Prof. Mallett: Well, I am thinking of writing a sequel once I get the funding. But what I am really excited about is that Hollywood has become interested in my memoir and has decided to make a feature film of it. For me there two things why I am this excited about this movie; to see my father portrayed on a big screen will almost seem that he is being brought back to life. The other thing is that my work is going to be brought to a huge audience. Maybe there is someone in the audience who is interested in investing in the scientific possibilities behind it. Someone who says, ‘Hey, let’s talk to Mallett and find out what he is up to’.

When the script is done this year, it means that it will go into development next year and hopefully come out in 2021.

Q: Prof. Mallett, thank you so much for this interview. I am sure it will be an inspiration to many. Do you have any additional advice you can give for aspiring physicists and theoretical physicists who want to dive into the mysteries of the universe?

Prof. Mallett: When I talk to people I emphasize STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) because we live in a highly technological world. And what I tell young people that, for me, I cannot think of a better way of life than to try to contribute to the human race by advancing, by using our knowledge in science, in engineering and in math to actually improve things for the human race. I have found that that is the most satisfying thing to me in my life.

Think about it, to be paid to explore the universe and to try to find out what the real things of nature are… I cannot think of anything that is more exciting than that. Sometime people ask, especially when it comes to physics, ‘How are you going to make a living from that?’ But the thing is you will be able to find that way. Yes, it does enquire dedication and hard work though but there are so many exciting scientific fields out there. All of these scientific fields have contributed in ways more than thought about originally. For instance, think about what the science of DNA have done as far as for the criminal justice system. It actually allows people who where convicted wrongly to set free and people who deserved to be convicted, to go to jail.

I encourage young people to think about exploring some of these excited fields of science and experience how exciting it is to deal with something that is actually going to make a major impact for mankind. They will be able to contribute to the betterment of the human race.

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