Quantum physicists succeed in time travel – ‘making science fiction reality’

Without any flow compensators or whistleblowers: Researchers have now managed to turn back time—on the smallest level, but the success is still colossal.

We humans are fascinated with the idea of ​​being able to jump back and forth in time and we live it up in movies and novels. In the 1970s, the cartoon character “Mr. Rossi” turned back time thanks to a magic whistle. “Marty” McFly bounces back and forth between the future and the past to save his existence in the Back to the Future trilogy (1985, 1989, 1990). And in the bestseller “The Time Traveler’s Wife” (2003), the pair attempt to forge a lifelong relationship despite their time differences.

Austrian researchers are turning the clock around

Actually, none of this is possible, right? In any case, science does not want to bow to this generally valid experiment, as the experiment conducted by a team of physicists from the University of Vienna and the Austrian Academy of Sciences shows. It seems that the researchers have now succeeded in turning the clock on the smallest level. To be more precise, scientists have managed to turn back time at the quantum level – and therefore at the lowest imaginable level.

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Mr. Rossi and his dog Gaston (avatar): Remember the couple from the Italian cartoon from the ’70s? In it, the fairy gives Mr. Rossi a whistle with which he can travel through time. (Quelle: IMAGO / United Archives / Publicity Still)

Quanta are the smallest building blocks of matter and energy, including photons, for example. These particles are in the subatomic range, “Computerbild” explains the findings of the Austrians, who have published the results of their study in the journal “Optica”.

This is how the time jump in quantum physics works

The big difference: While processes in the natural world are always advancing, it seems possible to reverse temporal evolution in the quantum world. In accordance with this, the researchers succeeded in reverting the quantum state of the photons to the previous states or to the future states while skipping the states in between.

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“DeLorean” by Doc Brown and Marty McFly: In the Back to the Future movies, the movie contained a time machine, the so-called flux capacitor. (Quil: Imago / Rodrigo Reyes Marin)

“We made science fiction come true,” quotes from the portal.futuristicPhysicist Miguel Navasques of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. His results could theoretically also be applied to humans, says Navasques. However, due to the complexity and information density of the human body, the procedure would take several million years to complete a second to rejuvenate.

However, this discovery has utility, namely in the field of quantum computers. Here, the states of individual qubits (the smallest unit of computing and information for a quantum computer) can be reset, for example to correct an error.

The described discovery is not the first exception to linear time that researchers have made at the quantum level. Early last year, researchers were able to create a phase of matter that behaves as if it were part of two different time dimensions.

Read all about qubits and the second dimension of time in quantum computers here.

But even this discovery does not make the development of a time machine possible yet – at least for the time being.


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