Scientists at Cornell University have gained quite a bit of press attention with their claims to have come up with a ‘time cloak’ that can momentarily make events seem to not happen. It sounds pretty complex and mind-boggling, but does it really amount to a method of briefly bending time, Alex Mack style?
The work, titled Demonstration of Temporal Cloaking and published this week in Nature, builds on previous theories regarding invisibility, which sought to make objects seem to be invisible if light can be bent around them. The ‘time cloak’ involves bending light in a similar way to make it seem as if an entire moment has failed to occur. So far, the effect can last only 40 trillionths of a second, and it’s not clear whether it can be expanded to cover the kind of event that would be noticeable by a human.
The experiment involved aiming a laser at a probe and passing the laser through a ‘time lens’, which modified the light’s temporal – but not spatial – distribution. In other words, the lens sped up and slowed down different parts of the beam. This meant that the beam’s light travelled at different speeds at different moment, but overall seemed to have travelled at the expected rate. An event that happened inside the ‘time hole’ was therefore not detected by the probe.
The new experiment is unlikely to give us the ability to hop around in time, but it could have a number of more subtle applications. Computing is one, where the method could be used to create faster processing. There are also, potentially, more nefarious uses, such as inserting or removing events from data streams in an attempt to hide an action. There are also concerns that the trick could be weaponised in some way. Research is still in its early stages, but it’s clear that this could pave the way for some exciting – but also potentially scary – new devices.