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Surprise + Traffic Jam

January 4, 2010


Many people have tried to build a time machine. You can buy one off e-bay but it won’t work. I will tell you how to build one that works. Let’s start with Einstein. Einstein said that time is related to space. Therefore a time machine must also be a space machine. Like a space ship or something. Einstein said that as speed increases through space, time slows down. Unfortunately, the effect is relatively minor if you’re going very slow. And even 200 MPH is slow, because Einstein says you need to approach the speed of light in order to make any dent on time.

Do you know how fast the speed of light is? Me neither.

Light is very very fast. Well, one problem is making a space ship that goes that fast. Another problem is that even if we did make a spaceship that fast, our bodies would not be able to withstand that kind of speed. Think if you went all the way around the world in a fraction of a second. You’d probably be a little dizzy. Also, your body would probably wither away because all your body atoms are banging against all the air atoms until you are no more. This is called friction or air resistance or something. Even in space, there will be things to bang against.

Not only is it hard for your body to withstand going so fast, it would be near impossible to build a spaceship out of metal that can withstand that as well. But you know what goes the speed of light? Yes, light does! So let’s build a spaceship out of light. The smallest spaceship in the world.

You’ll need:

  • A light particle.
  • A brand new carbon particle.
  • Superglue.
  • Superglue anti-dote.
  • A mirror. (optional: 2 mirrors).

Duration: about 100 years

Now we learned in science class that light is both a particle and a wave. Well, what we need to do is catch a light particle while it is a particle instead of a wave. Or catch a light particle while it is a wave and wait till it looks kind of like a particle. Then take your carbon particle and superglue it onto the light particle. We chose a carbon particle because it can be dated. This is called carbon dating, and this way you can tell how old your carbon atom has gotten while going through the time machine.

Now what we want to do is go to the end of the universe and place your mirror there. Make sure it’s very very far away, to give your spaceship some time to get there. Now, release your light-particle spaceship in the direction of your mirror.

Wait about 100 years, but be ready to catch your light particle when it comes back. Once you’ve caught it, take your superglue anti-dote and pour it on the spaceship. Now the carbon atom should be free. Take it and send it to a lab to be carbon-dated (I don’t know what this means, but a little mystery is sometimes good). If everything works as planned, your carbon atom should have only aged a few minutes.

Another option, if you don’t feel like going all the way to the end of the universe, is to place two mirrors close to each other and make sure the light-particle spaceship is bouncing between them over and over again. Let this happen for about 100 years.

I hope you enjoyed this science project.


Download and listen to at least the first four minutes of this mp3 from the RadioLab podcast (or listen to it directly on their page). It is a segment that illustrates the musicality of language in a most remarkable way. The rest of the program is interesting too, especially the Musical DNA segment.