Business, Finance & Economics

Time cloak created by Cornell researchers


Scientists have been able to manipulate light beams so they are unable to detect an event, effectively cloaking it from human perception, perhaps one day allowing us to move outside the confines of conventional space-time, as depicted in this sculpture by Sun Shaoqun entitled "Beyond Space Time."


China Photos/stringer

Researchers at Cornell University have devised a way of masking events from traditional ways of detecting them in the space-time continuum, effectively creating a “hole in time.” 

The experiments were reported in a letter sent to Tuesday’s edition of the science journal Nature, in which four researchers outline their technique for temporal cloaking. Here’s the original letter. Warning, nerds – it gets a bit complex. 

Nature Asia picks up the story to explain that these researchers have been able to speed up and slow down tiny fractions of a probe light beam, which is used to measure events occurring over minute periods of time. The researchers have been able to manipulate this beam so it is unable to detect a portion of time, in a sense cloaking any events that occur during that time from conventional perception. But, climb out of your TARDIS, Doctor, they’re not claiming that time travel or anything like it has been achieved, merely that a tiny fraction of a moment has been rendered undetectable. And we’re talking really, really tiny. 

“The time cloaking is achieved on a picosecond timescale – trillionths of a second,” admits Nature. But the journal does claim the effects “could be a significant step towards full spatio-temporal cloaking.”

The new research builds on recent demonstrations of "invisibility cloaks" that can make objects seem to disappear by bending waves of visible light, National Geographic reported, referring to experiments that curve light around objects in a way that makes them disappear from view. Those manipulations are possible because of man-made substances that behave in unusual, unnatural ways—so-called optical metamaterials made by processes of nanotechnology.

Cloaking things, either in space or in time, requires the manipulation of light, explained the Washington Post. Light carries information. It bounces off objects, defining their shape and their location in time, and sending those details to receptors such as our eyes. If an object can prevent light from doing that, it will become invisible. 

The work has come out of Cornel’s GAETA Group, which studies quantum and nonlinear photonics at the School of Applied and Engineering Physics. Moti Fridman, a researcher at the school and the author of the letter to Nature, said: “We think of time in the way that other people think of space. What other people are doing in space, we can do it in time.” 

All sounds pretty creepy? Perhaps it’s not surprising that, as Agence France Presse reported, the research was bankrolled by the Pentagon.