UK Book Reviews
Making Time Travel a Reality
Alexander Waugh reviews
"The Time Traveller"
October 25, 2007
Online at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts
On May 22, 1955, Ronald Mallett's father, a 33-year-old TV repairman from
the Bronx, died of a sudden heart attack. Mallett was 10 years old at the
time and the trauma of the event, not unnaturally, knocked him for six. A
year later, he read a 15 cent illustrated redaction of H G Wells's classic
novel The Time Machine, which gave him the idea to build a device that would
allow him to return to 1955 and save his father's life.
So far the story is fabulous, painful and babyish, the stuff of Hollywood -
but fast-forward 47 years to June 2002, and the same Ronald Mallett,
now professor of theoretical physics at the University of Connecticut,
is delivering a paper in Washington to around 50 of the world's most
distinguished physicists at the International Association for Relativistic
Dynamics third biennial conference, in which he explains how a machine involving
a circuit of lasers could, in theory, send a particle backwards in time.
It has long been known that Einstein's relativity allows for certain forms of
theoretical time travel. If you whizz off into outer space at the speed of light,
you will find upon your return that time passed much quicker for those on Earth
than it did for you in your rocket.
In 1974 a mathematician, Frank J Tipler, worked out that if you could get your
hands on some material denser than a neutron star, forge it into a cylinder 100
kilometres long and 10 kilometres wide, and spin it really fast (at least two
rotations per millisecond), and then drive a spaceship up to the edge without
crashing or getting sucked into the holes at the end, then you might stand a
chance of travelling through time. Others have posited the existence of
so-called worm holes, corridors that link different regions of space-time
through black holes.
Mallett is still working on his prototype, which he believes is capable of
creating a closed loop in time. "As for travelling into the past, I believe
it will ultimately happen," he says, but the tragedy he concedes is that
he will never get to see his father again even if his machine is ready by
tomorrow: for it will only allow him back as far as the moment when it was
first switched on.
As a popular guide to the most recent developments of relativistic science,
it is lucidly written in the style of John Gribbin and should prove popular
among non-scientists wishing to broaden their horizons.
When the quantum physicist Bryce DeWitt heard Mallett expounding his theories
for the first time, he told him: "I don't know if you will ever see your father
again; but I do know he would have been proud of you."
THE DEATH OF A LOVED ONE brings with it shock and disbelief but sometimes -
particularly for a child - the grief is so unbearable that it never leaves you.
And, faced with such a tragedy, who wouldn't go back in time and change the past
if they could?
MotorBar Book Reviews Online
Online at www.motorbar.co.uk/bookreviews.htm
Ron Mallett idolised his father, an electronics whiz who died when Ron was just ten
years old. Time, he says, stopped for him on 22 May, 1955. Such was his grief that
the young boy, after reading H G Wells' The Time Machine, resolved to build
his own time machine to go back and save his father.
The Time Traveller: One Man's Mission to make Time Travel A Reality is a terrific
book that tells the amazing and true story of scientist Ronald Mallett's discovery
of the basic equations for a working time machine. But is also an inspirational
tale of a son attempting to journey to the past to save his father. Driven by filial
love and obsession, Mallett tells his personal story of how he planned and shaped a
time machine, through which he hoped to change the course of this future.
This memoir of a man, inspired by both the memory of his father and Einstein's
theories on space-time, is a wild and exciting journey though science. Ronald's
intelligence and determination took him on a path of discovery and development
of which his father would have been proud. While working towards his goal, Ron
Mallett achievement - if not quite what he strove for - was astonishing; and he
refused to allow poverty, racism (he is an African American) or depression to
impede his progress.
Having discovered H G Wells, Ray Bradbury and other science fiction, Ronald tried
to put together a time machine. But he soon realised he needed scientific knowledge.
He was introduced to Albert Einstein via a book by Lincoln Barnett called
The Universe and Dr Einstein. On page 59 he discovered a formula that showed how
time was affected by motion. And he learned that the young Albert Einstein had to find
a tutor to teach him the sophisticated language of mathematics he would need to present
his revolutionary theories about time. Einstein also believed that "imagination is
more important than knowledge".
Ronald was amused to come across this quotation: "Do not worry about your problems with
mathematics. I assure you mine are far greater." He hated arithmetic but kept his goal
in his sights.
In 2002, when he was a professor of physics at the University of Connecticut, Ron Mallett
finally revealed to fifty of the worlds leading physicists, at The International
Association for Relative Dynamics Third Biennial Conference at Howard University,
his beliefs that the 21st Century would herald the dawn of the time machine -
a daunting prospect in such illustrious company.
Ronald outlined his own theories based on Einstein's general relativity theory, and
illustrated that space and time could be manipulated in a whole new way that would
lead to the possibility of time travelling to the past. This book is riveting:
don't be put off by the technical terms as the writer explains important ones in
layman's terms. Neither is he blasť about his position: "My dream," Ronald tells an
audience of young people, "helped keep me out of the state pen and got me into
Born in Pennsylvania in 1945, Dr Ronald Mallett grew up in the Bronx. In 1973 he
was one of he first African Americans to receive a PhD in Physics and he is now a
Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Connecticut. He has published
many papers on theoretical physics, and his time travel research has been featured
in the TV special The World's First Time Machine as well as in publications as
diverse as The Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone
and New Scientist.
With a retro-look cover, The Time Traveller: One Man's Mission to Make Time Travel
a Reality will look great on your bookshelf. But even more, once you start to read it
you'll be hooked. I was delighted to find brief storylines of science fiction books,
films and episodes from television series. It gives you an insight into the world in
which we so easily could find ourselves.
Co-writer Bruce Henderson is the author and co-author of numerous best-selling books
including, most recently, True North: Peary, Cook and the Race to the Pole.
He teaches non-fiction writing at Stanford University, and lives in Northern California.
The Time Traveller: One Man's Mission to Make Time Travel a Reality by
Ronald L. Mallett and co-written by Bruce Henderson, was published by Doubleday in
hardback and is out now, available at most good book shops.
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The Void - UK
31 August, 2007
Online at www.the-void.co.uk
Some people have small dreams, like being able to go on holiday or to one day own
their house. Others have bigger dreams, like becoming their country's leader or
building their modest business into a huge corporation. However, no one had a
bigger dream than Ronald Mallett, the Professor of Physics at the University of
Rocked by the loss of his father at a young age, and inspired by HG Wells'
The Time Traveller, Ron fantasises of one day journeying into the past to warn
his father about his dodgy heart and prevent his premature death. Whereas most
people would give up on this idea after a few seconds, dismissing it as fantasy,
Ron decides to pursue his dream.
Telling the story of both his growth as a person and a physicist, Ron
(with co-writer Bruce Henderson) lays out the theories that impacted on his
development of a theory for time travel. While his comments on general relativity,
black holes and much more can be mind-boggling at times, the Professor is excellent
at creating understandable analogies and turns what could have been a lecture in how
he's so much cleverer than you into an engaging and, at times, moving read.
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At the age of ten, Ron Mallett's father died. Suffocating beneath
the weight of his grief, young Ron picked up a copy of H. G. Wells'
"The Time Machine" and was inspired to throw himself into a quest to
find his own Holy Grail - a means to travel back in time and save
his father from his untimely death. Remarkably, this working-class
boy from the Bronx stuck with his vision, struggling with poverty
and prejudice to become one of America's first black Ph.D.s in
theoretical physics. Ronald Mallett discovered that circulating laser
light could twist not just space (a phenomenon known as frame dragging)
but also time, thus creating a time loop through which subatomic
particles, information and perhaps one day even people might travel.
"The Time Traveller" follows Ronald Mallett's extraordinary journey
of self - and scientific discovery as he describes in simple language
and elegant metaphor the physics that makes time travel possible.
From Einstein's seminal work in relativity, to closed loops in time,
to black holes and the birth of the universe, Ron Mallett lays out
his theories and presents the reader with what is an actual blueprint
for a time machine. A dramatic and compellingly human memoir, this is
also a story of astonishing achievement. An experimental machine to
travel back in time is now being designed at a university laboratory
using Dr Mallett's theories and equations.
Online at www.play.com
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People who have little knowledge about technology or keep touch
on it have heard about the name of Time Machine.
New Time Machine Planner
01 August, 2007
Online at www.4engr.com
Just think if you could go back and warn someone that their
lifestyle, their smoking or heavy drinking was driving them into
an early grave.
You would not only be able to meet the dead - but to save them as well.
A new book tells the story of an extraordinary man whose life work is inspired
by a longing to do just that.
Wells's book was, of course, entirely fictional, and yet, just a few years
after it was written, a German-Jewish physicist called Albert Einstein blew the
science community apart. Einstein showed that time and space were indeed
different aspects of the same thing - a concept called spacetime - which is at
the heart of how physicists understand the way the universe is.
Mallett became obsessed with the German scientist - who had died in 1955, the
same year as his father. Most importantly, Mallett realised - as Einstein had
himself - that the new way of thinking about gravity, space and time contained
in the physicist's Special and General theories of relativity meant that a time
machine was at least possible in theory.
Einstein's equations showed that by twisting spacetime around, it is possible
in theory to make a connection from future to past. Step into this timeloop,
and you could emerge years later or earlier.
This idea would form the basis of Mallett's putative time machine. But, back
in 1950s New York, he was a long way from his goal. Growing up poor and black,
one of four children raised by a widowed mother who made ends meet by
window-cleaning, is not an ideal recipe for academic success.
There are several important things to realise about Mallett's time machine.
For a start, it would only be possible to travel back in time to a point
after the machine was first switched on.
If you turned on the machine, on January 1 say, and left it running for
three months, you could enter the machine in March and only travel back as
far as January 1.
So no trips back to the Middle Ages or to Ancient Rome.
This would be staggering enough. Just think: a time-traveller could go back
and meet himself. Or he could send back information into the past - including
the results of horse races, stock market movements.
But consider, too, all the weird paradoxes that the time machine would create.
You could come face-to-face with your past self, causing untold confusion.
What, for example, would happen if you killed your past self? Would both
versions of 'you' die at the same time?
Mallet believes these paradoxes would not in themselves prevent the construction
of such a machine. But there are plenty of sceptics.
Mallett is now 62 years old. He still believes he will live to see the creation
of the first time machine.
Sadly, the way it works means that he will never be able to fulfil his
original wish - to warn his father about his deteriorating health.
"My solace is that if this works, future generations will be able to
use this technology to prevent the tragedy that I went through," he says.
If he is right, the little boy from the Bronx who lost his beloved father
all those years ago will end up being the most famous inventor in history.
News Inside News:
The Dream start - His journey began in the early 1950s, when this intelligent
and inquisitive boy was ten years old.
He lived with his parents Boyd and Dorothy in a working-class Jewish area of
the Bronx, in New York city. The Malletts were happy there, having escaped
the terrible racism of the Deep South.
Boyd Mallett was a gadget freak, and a talented, respected electronic technician -
one of his jobs was to wire up the new United Nations building being constructed
His son worshipped him, and the pair would spend many hours in the evenings
experimenting with capacitors and circuits, building crystal radios and other
Then, the night after his parents' 11th wedding anniversary, Boyd died
suddenly of a heart attack.
"For me, the sun rose and set on him," Ron Mallett said later.
"It completely devastated me."
Boyd Mallett's death was probably preventable. He had always been a heavy
smoker and workaholic and had started drinking too much.
His son sank into a despair that would not lift; indeed, he became severely
depressed. Ronald simply could not accept that he would never see his father again.
And he began to wonder if there was a way they could be reunited.
Mallett devoured the pulp sci-fi comics of the time, and began to realise
that time travel was, at least in fiction, a possibility. Then he read what
is one of the finest science-fiction stories ever written, HG Wells's
The Time Machine.
In the novel, the time-travelling hero explains: "Scientific people know
very well that time is only a kind of space. We can move forward and backward
in time, just as we can move forward and backward in space."
Mallett was dumbfounded. If he could build a time machine, he could go back
and change history and prevent his father's death.
From that day, Mallet became obsessed with time travel, despite having
no clear idea of how it could be accomplished.
Undaunted, he studied hard at school and achieved good grades, particularly
in the sciences. However, a university education was out of the question -
there was simply no way his family could afford to pay for it.
So Ron Mallett joined the U.S. Air Force, in the hope of being granted
a military scholarship so that he could later study physics. His test
grades were so good that he was fast-tracked into the USAF's electronics school.
Despite his success, the past still intruded in the most horrible ways.
Mallett's first tour of duty was in Biloxi, in the Deep South.
There, for the first time in his life, he encountered the soul-destroying
racism that had driven his grandparents north 40 years before.
"The first thing I noticed," he writes, "were the signs, the likes of which
I had never seen before. 'Whites only'. 'No Colored'."
There was talk of beatings and worse for black servicemen who strayed off base.
Mallett made a vow to remain on base for the entire duration of his training,
which included courses in electronics and computing. He also spent hours in
the well-equipped library, devouring everything he could both by and about
His studies paid off. After he was discharged, he won a place at
Pennsylvania State University, and began a degree in physics.
Eventually, in 1973, he won his doctorate, only the 79th black American ever
to do so in this subject. Part of his thesis was an investigation into the
theoretical possibility of using gravity to reverse the passage of time.
In 1975, he was awarded a job as a professor of physics at Connecticut
University - where he has worked ever since.
Despite the respectability of his CV, he still felt he couldn't discuss his
ideas openly. "I feared professional suicide," he says now.
But, as his work continued, the story got out. Mallett's time machine went
public in 2001, when New Scientist magazine ran an article about his design,
and TV appearances followed.
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Popular Science - UK
"The Time Traveller"
Reviewed by Brian Clegg
The idea of travelling in time has been a science fiction standard
for at least a hundred years, but it's one of those subjects that real
scientists tend to avoid like the plague. The fact is, scientists can
be quite conservative about what they discuss, and though several have
postulated that it could be possible to travel in time using impractical
suggestions like wormholes, to dare to attempt to design a time machine
for real is putting yourself in a real state of risk. Yet this is exactly
what physics professor Ronald Mallett has done - and got away with it.
This charming book explains how a boy from a poor family was driven into
science by the urge to go back and visit his dead father - it really is
the stuff of fiction - and though he was worked on various topic along
the way, underlying his progression has always been the belief that he
would find a way to travel through time.
The book is superbly readable - it once again shows how academics can
benefit from getting the help of a co-author. What might seem fairly
unpromising stuff - boy grows up to be academic (yawn) - into a real
page-turner. All along the way you want Ronald Mallett to succeed,
such is his determination. A hugely readable book, a fascinating subject
and a delightful story.
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USA Book Reviews
Asimov's Science Fiction
On Books by Peter Heck
Online Issue 0706
Here's a non-fiction title of unusual interest to SF readers:
the autobiography of an African-American physicist whose professional
and personal life has been shaped by his quest to build a time machine.
Not surprisingly, one of the key influences was his early love of science
fiction, both in print and in other media.
Mallett's father, a TV repairman, died of a heart
attack at age thirty-three, in 1955, when the author
was ten, the oldest of four children. Mallett's discovery
of H.G. Wells's The Time Machine, in the Illustrated
Classics comic version, gave him new hope. If he could
build his own time machine, he could return to the fifties
and save his father! He tried and failed - like many
of us in our childish days - but instead of showing
him the dream was impossible, the failure made him decide
to learn more about science. Despite bouts of depression
that nearly led him to drop out of school, he began
to study harder - and to read more science fiction.
School was followed by Air Force service, since the family had no money
for college even if his grades had been good enough. Stationed in the
Deep South, he became aware of serious racism for the first time;
instead of crushing him, it simply made him withdraw into the world
of his mind, learning advanced math and computer skills. Back in civilian
life, he was ready for college, majoring in physics at Penn State.
He kept his time-travel project secret, knowing that it would mark him
as a crackpot and derail any chance at a scientific career. But careful
study of relativity theory convinced him that his dream was possible,
after all. Mallett interweaves the story of his professional scientific
career, full of conferences and publications, with the drive to make his
dream of time travel - still being fueled by SF books and films - come true.
Surprisingly, his perseverance paid off. By the 1980s, leading physicists
such as Stephen Hawking, Frank Tipler, and Kip Thorne were investigating
corollaries of relativity in which time appeared to move backward. Their
speculations, combined with Einstein's recognition that light is subject
to the pull of gravity, led Mallett to investigate the effects of a laser
beam following a tight circular path. After formidable calculations,
he found a theoretical foundation for time travel - and saw it accepted
by other physicists.
While his dream of going back in time to save his father remains
unfulfilled - travel to times before the machine is built is still
theoretically impossible - Mallett has achieved a significant scientific
breakthrough. And his inspiration was one of the classic science fiction
stories - based on an idea everyone once thought impossible.
Okay, we probably aren't going to see practical time travel any time
soon - although Mallett does have a team working to see if they can turn
his theory into an operational device. We do know we won't get the
opportunity to go back and tell Lincoln to skip the theater. But it
does show that wild dreams can come true, and good old SF was at the
root of it.
This would be a good book to give to any of your old high school
teachers who dismissed SF as worthless and unreal - except that we
can't give it to them when it would have mattered, which is before
they taught us. Maybe Mallett's hardware guys will figure out how to
do that for us. And then maybe we'll get our flying cars and matter transmitters.
Asimov's Science Fiction: On Books by Peter Heck at
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A Beautiful (Black) Mind:
by Ajuan Mance
April 26, 2007
When Ronald Mallett was only 10 years hold, his father
died suddenly and unexpectedly. Young Ronald was stunned
by the loss. He had admired his father greatly. He was
a smart, hard-working man whose skill in electronics
and natural curiosity had dazzled and impressed his young son.
Shortly after his father's death, young Ronald read a
book that would change his life forever. Mallet describes
how his encounter with a science fiction classic set
him on his life's course:
"Fortunately, among the many gifts my father
bestowed on me was a passion for reading, and it was
in books that I found some measure of solace. A little
more than a year after Dad's death, one book in particular
became the turning point in my life: The Time
Machine by H. G. Wells. I was consumed by the
possibility that I might be able to build a time machine
that would allow me to travel to the past and see
my father again. This time I would warn him that his bad habits would kill
him - and soon.
The possibility of time travel became
more real in my mind when, a few years later, I came
across a popular book about the work of Albert Einstein.
Einstein, said the book, was able to show that time
is not unchanging but can be altered; in fact, if you
move a clock fast enough, time slows down! This gave
me hope that one day I might actually be able to build
a time machine. I learned, too, that Einstein was a
physicist. There was no other route: I would have to
take science and learn higher mathematics to understand
his work and embark on my own journey.
Daily life was a constant struggle for my family after my
father's death. I was the oldest of four children my
mother had to provide for on her own. Somehow her inner
strength kept the family together and allowed us to
survive. My dream of a time machine remained a secret
and after high school I enlisted in the US air force
to get money for college.
Studying on my own while I was in the military,
I learned that Einstein had developed two theories
of relativity. His special theory of relativity, which
has to do with the speed of light, allows the possibility
of time travel into the future. This form of time
travel had already been demonstrated experimentally.
His other theory, the general theory of relativity,
has to do with gravity and allows for the possibility
of time travel into the past.
When I was discharged from the air force, I set to
work and eventually won my PhD in physics from Penn
State University. At college, I researched cosmology,
which allowed me to study the structure and evolution
of the universe as well as the theory of black holes.
These subjects provided cover for my interest in building
a time machine, which I feared would not be taken seriously.
by Ronald Mallett
in New Scientist Magazine - November 11, 2006
Turning Point: Back to My Future
Eventually Mallett's passion would earn him tenure
at the University of Connecticut. More importantly,
his work on black holes, of great interest for their
ability to slow and distort space and time, has earned
him the respect of his colleagues as a cutting-edge
Ironically, the young Ronald Mallett was not terribly enthusiastic about school.
His drive to excel was fueled by his singular passion
to uncover the mysteries of space and time and return,
eventually, to the past to reconnect with (and possibly
to save) his father.
Mallett's story serves as a reminder
that the difference between reluctant or apathetic learners
and engaged overachievers can be as simple as the presence
of a passion, an interest, or question, or topic, or
skill that lends relevance to the pursuit of knowledge.
If you have a passion, share it with a young person
you know, especially if it's a kid who seems disinterested
in school and learning. You just might ignite his or
her intellectual curiosity. You might just be setting
him or her on the path to become the next Einstein,
the next Feynman, the next Banneker or Carver, or Woodson
... or the next Ronald Mallett.
On-line review by Ajuan Mance at
Twilight and Reason Wordpress
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The Cuyahoga Astronomical Association
A Publication of The Cuyahoga Astronomical Association
Time Traveler - A Book Review
by Stephen L. Gallant, M.S.L.S.
The possibility of time travel to the future is not disputed, at least for objects
traveling near the speed of light. On the other hand, travel to the past, while not
disallowed by Einstein's theory of relativity, is more problematic. Dr. Ronald Mallett
has nonetheless made it his life's goal to create a time machine that that would
accomplish this feat. Time Traveler is the story of his remarkable life and
accomplishments in working to achieve a lifelong dream.
Ronald Mallett was born in Roaring Springs, Pennsylvania in 1945, the product of a
loving and supportive family. He idolized his dad, an electronics wizard, and was
devastated when the man died of a heart attack in 1955. Soon afterward, Mallett read
H.G. Wells's novel The Time Machine, a book which was to change his life. He decided
then that he would learn and do whatever it took to build a time machine of his own
with which he could go back in time to save his father.
The boy subsequently read every thing he could find about his hero Albert Einstein,
took courses in algebra and electronics in high school, and, on graduation, entered
the United States Air Force where he continued his studies in electronics and computer
science. As an African-American stationed in the South during the early years of the
civil rights movement, he was all too aware of the bigotry that existed in this country.
For the most part he stayed within the confines his base and studied. Mallett entered
the physics program at Pennsylvania State University after leaving the air force in 1966.
In 1973 he received his doctorate in physics, one of only 250 African-American physicists
in the U.S. out of a total of 25,000. After spending time as an industrial scientist,
Mallett joined the faculty of the University of Connecticut in 1975, where he remains
to this day.
Throughout his career Mallett pursued his dream of time travel, while keeping quiet
about it to avoid being labeled a crackpot. His research focused on the space-time
disturbances which may be caused by the gravitational fields of controlled laser beams.
Mallett's contributions to relativity theory and astronomy include the papers Weak
Gravitational Field of the Electromagnetic Radiation of a Ring Laser published in
Physics Letters A. 269, 214 (2000); Cosmic Degenerate Matter: A Possible Solution
to the Problem of Missing Mass, published with M.P. Silverman, in Classical and
Quantum Gravity 18, L37 (2001); and The Gravitational Field of a Circulating Light
Beam in Foundations of Physics 33, 1307 (2003). In the midst of his work he personally
encountered such luminaries as John A. Wheeler and Stephen Hawking.
After receiving a full professorship and tenure from his university, Mallett finally
decided to go public with his plans of building a time machine. In February, 2001,
at a physics colloquium at the University of Michigan, he presented the talk
The Gravity of Circulating Light: A Possible Route to Time Travel. The response
of his peers was polite but skeptical. Still, no one found fault with his theory or his
The media's response, however, was huge. Mallett became a celebrity, the subject of
numerous popular articles as well as a documentary film.
Regardless of whether or not Dr. Mallett's current experiments succeed, Time Traveler:
A Scientist's Personal Mission to Make Time Travel a Reality is nevertheless an
intriguing and inspiring book.
- Review by Stephen L. Gallant, M.S.L.S. for
The Cuyahoga Astronomical Association
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San Diego Tribune
December 24, 2006
Rolling back the hands of 'Time'
by Bruce Lieberman
His secret dreams led Ronald L. Mallett to physics; 'Time
Traveler' is a surprising, poignant memoir
In 1955, Ronald Mallett's father died of a heart attack.
The trauma sent the heartbroken boy, then 10 years old,
on a lifelong quest to see his father again.
That is the premise behind Mallett's very serious
and very personal memoir, "Time Traveler: A Scientist's
Personal Mission to Make Time Travel a Reality." Mallet,
a 61-year-old physicist at the University of Connecticut,
is no science-fiction writer. Some of his peers question
whether it will be ever possible to build a time machine
for people, but there's nothing about the laws of physics
that forbids time travel. It's actually theoretically
possible, and Mallet is now working on an experimental
machine designed to transport neutrons into the future.
In "Time Traveler," Mallett is driven by a singular
mission - from a withdrawn childhood comforted by science
fiction, to an ascetic life in the military, to an intellectual
blossoming in academia. Mallett doggedly pursued a life
in physics, devouring books on subjects he did not yet
understand, using food money for books, seeking training
in the military and college, then industry, then back
to a life of scholarship.
The author takes us along with him as he slowly begins to grasp the insights of
Hendrik Lorentz, Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrodinger,
Kurt Godel, Richard Feynman, John Wheeler, Kip Thorne,
Stephen Hawking, Alan Guth and a galaxy of other scientists
who influenced Mallett's life.
If you're not interested
in physics, then, this isn't the book for you. The narrative
of "Time Traveler" often feels like a college lecture,
but, Mallett is such a great teacher that the complex
ideas that shape modern physics aren't so scary under
the professor's easy guidance. Physics and Mallett's
pursuit of his dream are the centerpieces of his memoir,
but readers are also taken on a trip to America in the
1950s and 1960s, where a black boy and then young man
encountered periodic racism. It's not insignificant
that Mallett never experienced such small-mindedness
in academia, where a series of teachers and colleagues
supported him and opened doors.
Still, Mallett kept his dream of building a time machine -
his prime motivation for studying physics in the first place - a secret to
most people. As one of a handful of black physicists
in the country, he didn't want to risk being labeled
a crackpot and jeopardize his future.
By the late 1990s, however, Mallett found that time travel had actually
become a serious theoretical field of study.
It was Einstein who showed that gravity is the bending
of space and time. Anything with mass or energy distorts
the fabric of space and the passage of time near that
distortion. That explains why a clock runs slower close
to the Earth's gravitational field, and faster when
it's far away.
Any mass that's spinning "drags" space
and time around with it, like milk in a cup of coffee
being dragged around in a circle by a spoon. Take this
circular motion to an extreme, with an ever-dense mass
and ever-faster spin, and theoretical physics tells
you that you'll create "closed loops in time."
Mallett has postulated that rings of ;aser light wrapped into
a cylinder can also create space-time distortions, albeit
tiny ones. In 2003, he and his colleagues began building
a machine that may eventually demonstrate the movement
of neutrons and other tiny particles across time.
Yes, it's all hard to understand, but Mallett does an outstanding
job of placing these tough subjects within a lay reader's
grasp. And the book does a much better job of explaining
the particulars than any book review can.
The physics concepts laid out in Mallett's memoir are progressive
- that is, one idea builds on the next. In that sense,
a reader can see how Mallett finally came up with his
concrete idea for a time machine. If it ever sees the
light of day, it will have been built on centuries of
amassed theory, observation and knowledge.
As Mallett contemplates his time machine, he raises several
mind-bending issues. What happens, for example, if you go back in
time and kill your grandparents? Will you ever be born?
Science fiction has played a lot with that idea and
others like it.
Toward the end of the book, it becomes
apparent that the time machine Mallett envisions will
not enable him to see his father again. The time machine
will only point us toward the future, and we would only
be able to travel back to the time the machine was first
turned on, and no further.
"I would not be able to use my time machine to see my father,"
"The grown man and scientist I had become could now let go
of the final emotional vestiges of his shattered childhood.
My father was gone, and there was nothing I could do
about it other than live my own life with pride and
courage, and fill as many days as I had left with valued
people, times and works."
Mallett ends his memoir in the throes of work. His story, after all,
is continuing. In the final pages, he speculates what he might say
to Einstein if he could sit with him on a park bench.
Then, coming back to his father, he tells how he revealed
to his mother, only recently, that his life's work was
always driven by his desire to see his father again.
It's a fitting end for this strange, interesting and ultimately touching memoir.
- Bruce Lieberman is a staff writer for the Union-Tribune at
San Diego Tribune
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San Francisco Chronicle
December 20, 2006
by Julie Mayeda
In a parallel universe, Dr. Ronald Mallett is a TV
repairman working in his father's shop. In this one
he's a theoretical physicist. In that other universe
his father didn't die of a heart attack when Mallett
was only 10. In this one his father's death seeded Mallett's
raison d'etre: to travel back in time to warn his father
to take better care of himself.
Time travel? When pigs fly. But perhaps nothing seems
impossible to Mallett, who so far hasn't let anything
deter him from pursuing his grand endeavor -- not the
poverty of his youth or the racism he experienced as
an African American, not even the skepticism he still
encounters from some of his peers.
It isn't surprising, then, that Mallett's memoir,
"Time Traveler: A Scientist's Personal Mission to Make
Time Travel a Reality," is as inspirational a read as
watching underdog Rocky Balboa knock down the impressive
Apollo Creed -- though in comparison, Rocky's personal
victory was, well, a no-brainer. For Mallett to score
his, he needs to either close in on the speed of light
(and only Superman can do that) or find a way to manipulate
the space-time fabric. It's the latter he's been working
on, for most of his life.
Mallett's fixation with time travel began at 10 and by
way of a comic book depicting H.G. Wells' classic, "The
Time Machine." In it he read, "We can move forward and
backward in time, just as we can move forward and backward
in space." "Did this mean," Mallett wondered, that "I
might be able to go back in time and warn my father to
go to the doctor, slow down, take better care of himself?"
A few years later, Mallett bought a used copy of Lincoln
Barnett's "The Universe and Dr. Einstein." It contained
a formula that "became a sort of mantra." "While I didn't
understand much of its meaning, I did feel its power.
I would often repeat to myself and idly scribble the
equation for time as though it was some holy script."
Einstein utilized this equation to show that time slows
down the faster you move. So began Mallett's ever-deepening
immersion into Einstein's theories of relativity and
his lifelong reverence for the man himself.
Mallett found inspiration in other kinds of books
as well. While reading Sammy Davis Jr.'s autobiography,
"Yes I Can," "I began to understand that I, too, might
find protection from prejudice by utilizing my skills
and talents." Reading James Baldwin's "The Fire Next
Time" made him "more determined than ever to succeed
in becoming a physicist."
His path was not always smooth, nor was it straight,
but as happens to the fortunate few, certain events
converge to make a life appear predestined. As a freshly
minted Ph.D., Mallett was unable to secure an academic
Instead he became, for a time, an industrial scientist
working on lasers. Thirty years later, Professor Mallett
was contemplating an earlier finding that light, like
matter, can be a source of gravity. "It was then that
I had a Eureka moment."
"I knew from my time working with lasers at United
Technologies that there was a device called a ring laser
that could produce an intense and continuously circulating
narrow beam of light" and that it "might produce gravitational
effects similar to that of rotating matter." Mallett
explains, "My earlier studies of Kerr rotating black
holes indicated that the rotating matter of the black
hole resulted in a dragging of space around the black
hole, rather like a rotating apple in a vat of molasses.
... In addition, the rapidly rotating black hole also
leads to the formation of closed loops in time."
Cylinder of stacked ring lasers, gravitational effect,
twisting of space, closed loops in time leads to time
warp, then time travel! At least Mallett hopes so, for
the subatomic particles he and his colleague, experimental
physicist Chandra Roychoudhuri, intend to shoot through
their prototype time machine. If it works, then the
lifetime of those extremely short-lived particles should
have been measurably extended.
If the above doesn't quite make sense, reading "Time
Traveler" will put it aright. Whatever physics is needed
to follow Mallett on his life's quest is explained by
and by and without mind-numbing equations. Perhaps because
"Time Travel" is co-written with Bruce Henderson ("True
North," "And the Sea Will Tell") or because Mallett
is used to explaining abstract theories to his students,
the result is that even quantum physics is rendered
digestible. Happily, Mallett never comes off as a puffy-chested
smarty-pants. His delivery is humble, his voice enthusiastic,
his optimism contagious.
For anyone, but especially for the aspiring scientist,
"Time Traveler" is a worthwhile and surprisingly entertaining
read. Learning some physics is a bonus, but it's keeping
one's eyes on the prize that's the take-home.
- Julie Mayeda is an Oregon writer for
San Francisco Chronicle
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