On the Edge of Forever
[The Chronicle of Higher Education,19 April 2002]
A time machine gets proposed in Connecticut
By RICHARD MORGAN
Time waits for no man, except maybe Ronald L. Mallett. The physics professor at the University of Connecticut is deep in the whirlpool of time-travel theory, and thinks he may know how to build a machine that could transport people through time. He's not talking about the ornate contraptions of H.G. Wells's The Time Machine or Marty McFly's flying DeLorean from Back to the Future.
No, for Mr. Mallett it's about a cylinder of light, and this fall he plans to put his ideas to the test. Using photonic crystals and circular lasers, he hopes to move a neutron through time and to alter the decay rate of radioactive material.
They're just baby steps before his quantum leap into history. "Look at the Wright brothers," he says. "All they were able to do was move a plane a few hundred yards."
While some may scoff, Mr. Mallett is serious. "Everything I'm talking about is covered in Einstein's relativity theory," he explains. "It's real science."
Mr. Mallett's vision has roots in the past. When he was just 10, his father died of a heart attack at 33. The young boy was heartbroken until he stumbled onto science fiction, specifically, Wells's book. "Talk about something saving for me," he says. "What if I could build this machine? I could go back. I could see my dad, tell him what was going to happen. And that became my guiding light."
Travel through time, however, could not predate the existence of Mr. Mallett's theoretical machine, he says. One would be able to travel only after its invention -- "unless," he says, "we encounter an alien civilization that had developed time travel long before us."
The Ku Klux Klan still has a presence at Indiana University at Bloomington, and that's OK with the chancellor.
Sharon Stephens Brehm defends a mural that shows hooded klansmen burning a cross, and she refuses to remove it from the wall of a political-science lecture hall, despite objections from the college's Black Student Union.
The mural, one of 26 painted for the 1933 Chicago World's Fair, highlights the Klan's strong presence in the state at that time. Ms. Brehm says the painting is important -- not to honor the white supremacists, but to remind others of the state's "shameful" past.
Shannon R. Walden, a senior who is in charge of political action for the black union, says the chancellor should move the mural to the campus's art museum. "Students understand its history," she says. "But the Klan is still alive today. It affects students."
Pamela J. Berry, national imperial secretary of the national imperial wizard of the American Knights of the KKK, the nation's largest Klan sect, which is based in Indiana, applauds the chancellor's position. "I can't condone the actions of the Klan before us, but the Klan of 2002 has nothing to be ashamed about," she says. "A lot of bad things are part of history. We shouldn't put them aside. We should put them in the history books."
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