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A Beautiful (Black) Mind: Ronald Mallett April 26, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in Academia, African Americans, Blogroll, Higher Education, Physics, race, Ronald Mallett, Time Travel.

Ronald Mallett

Ronald Mallett at the Einsten House in Bern, Switzerland


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.

— Ronald Mallett in New Scientist

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 theoretical physicist.

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 intelletual 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.

Check out Ronald Mallett’s personal website (with lots of links to recent articles and interviews).

Posted by Ajuan Mance



1. S.E. Robinson - May 12, 2007

Peace to All. Thank you Ajuan for posting this wonderful aritcle about
a man of genius and grace. Once you meet Doctor Ronald Mallet, whether through his book “Time Traveler” or at book-signing you have stepped into the realm of his life’s dream and possibilities. You want him to win, you want to be his friend and be inspired by him. Dr. Mallett radiates not only brilliance and greatness but true wisdom tempered by a persevering spirit. He is a man of his own making who has for fifty years stayed his course.a course designed by a broken hearted 10 year old boy who had one wish only. It is critical for us as a people to support own. We support our entertainers and they become millionaires. We must support our scholars I challenge you to support Dr. Mallett. Buy his book, DONATE to his research, be a part of his dream. Celebrate and be inspired by this elegant, engaging and brilliant human being who is at the cutting edge of the the ultimate frontiers of Time and Space..

2. r.q. robinson - May 14, 2007

I’m sure he’s aware of this contingency, but if Mallett were to succeed at saving his father’s life by warning his father, Mallett would create a paradox via removing the very raison d’etre for Mallett’s creation of the time machine. This was shown in the 21st century remake of the film “The Time Machine.” The film proposes that all of Mallett’s efforts to warn his father would fail through unforseen mishaps. Paradox is dangerous stuff! Hopefully, Mallett would at least succeed at spending as much quality time with Mallett Sr. before his demise.

3. twilightandreason - May 14, 2007

S.E. Robinson, I’m glad that I’m able to share such a compelling story!
R..Q. Robinson, Interesting that you should mention this paradox. Mallett discussed this issue in an interview on a recent public radio program (possibly To the Best of Our Knowledge), and suggested that quantum physics provided a way around this paradox. If he traveled to the past to warn his father and actually succeeded, the world in which his father did not die prematurely would actually exist as one of the infinite parallel universes that quantum physics tells us exist for each alternate possibility (each choice not taken) in our existence. If Mallett was somehow unable to travel back to his own time/universe, then we would go on to exist in this rather unfamiliar parallel world.
If I find the link to this program, I will post it.

4. Passionate Pursuit: A Grandmother at Yale Medical School « Black on Campus - May 20, 2007

[…] and sometimes participating in the local underground economy. I see these young kids and I think of Ronald Mallet who despite his succes never particularly liked school, and I think Karen Morris who made some of […]

5. HNNEWS - September 6, 2012

It looks like Dr. Mallett has a challenger who has jumped a bit ahead of him – this man has an actual machine! It’s not a time machine yet – BUT displays the attributes that device would have to display before it could be turned into one. The time machine race is on! – http://www.prlog.org/11960190-detailed-results-from-marshall-barnes-race-with-ron-mallett-for-1st-time-machine-on-the-way.html

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