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The Real Science of Time Travel?

On Monday, November 11, attend a lecture by physicist Richard Mallett.
November 5, 2019
By Elisabeth Faure

From H.G. Wells’ classic story The Time Machine to the racy period drama Outlander, time travel remains a subject of fascination.

But is time travel merely the stuff of fiction? It’s a question that has long preoccupied Ronald L. Mallett, a professor of physics at the University of Connecticut, and one of the first-ever black physicists in the United States.

On Monday, November 11, Mallett will give a lecture on ‘The Real Science of Time Travel’ at Oscar Peterson Concert Hall. The lecture is co-hosted by the Science College and the Concordia Student Union (CSU).

“This is a great opportunity to showcase exciting events at Loyola campus, and to bring a diversity speaker in STEM to Concordia,” says Celeste Ferrus, CSU’s Loyola coordinator.

We caught up with Mallett in advance of his lecture.

Tell us about how you first became interested in time travel.

My interest in time travel began with a personal tragedy. I grew up in the Bronx, New York and was the oldest of four children. My father, Boyd Mallett, was a television repairman. I idolized him. For me the sun rose and set on him. However, he had a weak heart and died of a massive heart attack when he was only 33 years old and I was just 10. I was inconsolable.

One of the gifts he left me was a love for reading. About a year after he died when I was 11, I came across a Classics Illustrated edition of the H.G.Wells’ The Time Machine, a story that says it is possible to travel back in time. This gave me the unbelievable hope that if I could build a time machine then I might be able to go back to the past and see him again and maybe save his life.

That became an obsession for me and was the beginning of a long journey to understand the nature of time and the possibility of time travel.

Time travel is frequently a subject in popular culture. Are there any examples of time travel in film or television you find are accurate?

The most accurate recent depiction of time travel in film I've seen is the 2014 movie Interstellar. The film depicts how black holes can affect time by slowing time down due to their gravitational fields. This is indeed possible, based on Einstein's general theory of relativity.

You are one of the first-ever black physicists. What was that like?

I received my PhD in physics from Penn State University in 1973. At the time, I was one of only 79 African-American PhDs in physics out of approximately 20,000 physicists in the United States.

Careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Math and Engineering) are independent of race, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. These careers do, however, depend on dedication and hard work. In my career in physics, I have found that I have been respected because of what I've been able to achieve in advancing our understanding of the nature of the universe independent of my color. For this, I have felt grateful and blessed.

You also just wrote a book – tell us about that.

My recently published memoir Time Traveler: A Scientist's Personal Mission to Make Time Travel a Reality is a story of my personal journey dealing with poverty and prejudice to discover the possibility of time travel to save my father's life. The book discusses in non-technical language the physics that makes time travel possible based on Einstein's theories and covers topics such as black holes, wormholes, and the Big Bang theory of the universe. The memoir has been translated into Korean, Chinese, and Japanese and is in consideration to be made into a Hollywood feature film.

Copies of the book will be available for a book signing at my talk. The book can also be ordered from any bookstore and is available on Amazon.

Can you give us a teaser about what you have planned for your upcoming talk at the Science College?

My talk at the Science College will be a non-technical discussion of the real scientific possibility of time travel based on Einstein's special and general theories of relativity and includes mention of my current research. The talk also addresses the paradoxes of time travel.

Ronald Mallett's lecture, Real Science of Time Travel, takes place from 6 - 7 PM on Monday, November 11, at the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall.

The event is free and open to the public.

Learn more here.

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