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Research News at Vanderbilt

Large Hadron Collider could be world’s first time machine

by | Mar. 15, 2011, 9:17 AM | Want more research news? Subscribe to our weekly newsletter »

Prof. Thomas Weiler, right, and graduate fellow Chui Man Ho (John Russell / Vanderbilt)

Prof. Thomas Weiler, right, and graduate fellow Chui Man Ho (John Russell / Vanderbilt)

If the latest theory of Tom Weiler and Chui Man Ho is right, the Large Hadron Collider – the world’s largest atom smasher that started regular operation last year – could be the first machine capable of causing matter to travel backwards in time.

“Our theory is a long shot,” admitted Weiler, who is a physics professor at Vanderbilt University, “but it doesn’t violate any laws of physics or experimental constraints.”

One of the major goals of the collider is to find the elusive Higgs boson: the particle that physicists invoke to explain why particles like protons, neutrons and electrons have mass. If the collider succeeds in producing the Higgs boson, some scientists predict that it will create a second particle, called the Higgs singlet, at the same time.

According to Weiler and Ho’s theory, these singlets should have the ability to jump into an extra, fifth dimension where they can move either forward or backward in time and reappear in the future or past.

“One of the attractive things about this approach to time travel is that it avoids all the big paradoxes,” Weiler said. “Because time travel is limited to these special particles, it is not possible for a man to travel back in time and murder one of his parents before he himself is born, for example. However, if scientists could control the production of Higgs singlets, they might be able to send messages to the past or future.”

Unsticking the “brane”

Hadron Collider

An illustration of the Large Hadron Collider, the world's most powerful particle accelerator, located in Switzerland (CERN)

The test of the researchers’ theory will be whether the physicists monitoring the collider begin seeing Higgs singlet particles and their decay products spontaneously appearing. If they do, Weiler and Ho believe that they will have been produced by particles that travel back in time to appear before the collisions that produced them.

Weiler and Ho’s theory is based on M-theory, a “theory of everything.” A small cadre of theoretical physicists have developed M-theory to the point that it can accommodate the properties of all the known subatomic particles and forces, including gravity, but it requires 10 or 11 dimensions instead of our familiar four. This has led to the suggestion that our universe may be like a four-dimensional membrane or “brane” floating in a multi-dimensional space-time called the “bulk.”

According to this view, the basic building blocks of our universe are permanently stuck to the brane and so cannot travel in other dimensions. There are some exceptions, however. Some argue that gravity, for example, is weaker than other fundamental forces because it diffuses into other dimensions. Another possible exception is the proposed Higgs singlet, which responds to gravity but not to any of the other basic forces.

Answers in neutrinos?


Illustration of singlet time travel theory. When a pair of protons collide in the Large Hadron Collider, the resultant explosion may create a special type of particle, called a Higgs singlet, that is capable of traveling forward and back in time. It would do so by leaving familiar three-dimensional space to travel in an extra dimension. (Jenni Ohnstad / Vanderbilt)

Weiler began looking at time travel six years ago to explain anomalies that had been observed in several experiments with neutrinos. Neutrinos are nicknamed ghost particles because they react so rarely with ordinary matter: Trillions of neutrinos hit our bodies every second, yet we don’t notice them because they zip through without affecting us.

Weiler and colleagues Heinrich Päs and Sandip Pakvasa at the University of Hawaii came up with an explanation of the anomalies based on the existence of a hypothetical particle called the sterile neutrino. In theory, sterile neutrinos are even less detectable than regular neutrinos because they interact only with gravitational force. As a result, sterile neutrinos are another particle that is not attached to the brane and so should be capable of traveling through extra dimensions.

Weiler, Päs and Pakvasa proposed that sterile neutrinos travel faster than light by taking shortcuts through extra dimensions. According to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, there are certain conditions where traveling faster than the speed of light is equivalent to traveling backward in time. This led the physicists into the speculative realm of time travel.

Ideas impact science fiction

In 2007, the researchers, along with Vanderbilt graduate fellow James Dent, posted a paper titled “Neutrino time travel” that generated a considerable amount of buzz.

Their ideas found their way into two science fiction novels. Final Theory by Mark Alpert, which was described in the New York Times as a “physics-based version of The Da Vinci Code,” is based on the researchers’ idea of neutrinos taking shortcuts in extra dimensions. Joe Haldeman‘s novel The Accidental Time Machine is about a time-traveling MIT graduate student and includes an author’s note that describes the novel’s relationship to the type of time travel described by Dent, Päs, Pakvasa and Weiler.

Ho is a graduate fellow working with Weiler. Their theory is described in a paper posted March 7 on the research website

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  • Blue

    I wonder if anyone is monitoring these “Higgs singlets” for patterns that may indicate that attempts are being made to communicate with the present from the future. If they are in the future they will know, presumably, the exact moment that we are monitoring for such messages and what we are looking for. So really all we need to do is to put some sort of system together and start. I would guess though that such a thing would be kept secret. Too bad.

  • Anonymous

    u201cOne of the attractive things about this approach to time travel is that it avoids all the big paradoxes,u201d Weiler said. u201cBecause time travel is limited to these special particles, it is not possible for a man to travel back in time and murder one of his parents before he himself is born, for example.”nnIf you can send a message back instructing someone else to kill your own father, then clearly the paradox does still apply to this type of time travel.

    • david

      In that case, you wouldn’t exist, cause in an alternate reality, you would have never been born.

  • Dave Guidos

    Interesting stuff. Their first goal should be to get a message an hour or two into the past, win the lottery and fund the rest of their experiments…

    • Devil89

      @ DavenU think if they win a few million in the lottery they can cover any costs of their experiments? :D There are billions and billions involved, a few millions are probably their daily energy costs…

      • NOTANON

        I had to look for the reply because if someone hadnt said it i would have haha i dont think the lottery is gonna cut it for these guys

        • Louis Campbell

          What if they win ALL the lotteries?

        • Louis Campbell

          What if they win ALL the lotteries?

          • Chen,Xiangye

            Then u will not have any chance to win any lotteries :p

        • Louis Campbell

          What if they win ALL the lotteries?

    • Dylan Green-Sky Dugan

      As appealing as that sounds, your watching too much Steins;Gate

  • CERN’in bu00fcyu00fck hidron u00e7arpu0131u015ftu0131ru0131cu0131su0131 ile zamanda yolculuk mu00fcmku00fcn mu00fc oluyor?

    • The researchers are just theorizing that it could be possible.

      • Thats the whole point Melanie, They are just theories. Whether they can come true is just a matter of supposition.

  • Pieruinen

    If matter goes back in time, it will break the second rule of Newton’s: “Amount of energy is constant in the universe.” Best luck! The guys are gonna need it, if they are unaware of that law.

    • the same matter is still in the same universe, just in a different time

      • Misty Lee

        So in order to go back in time, your own body would cause whatever matter that it was a part of before your conception, to spontaneously discintigrate. So if you were once part of a monkey or an ear of corn, those things would just disappear as you simutaniously appeared.( I know bad Spelling). According to your theory, interesting. And if other living things were part of those things that disappear, in theory would be altered as well, since their make up was of something that ceases to exist in the form that it was when it helped build the said living thing? If time travel was possible, wouldn’t that cause the present to be constantly changing, since going back would cause irreversible changes to the past, there by causing people to simply disappear in the present or to morph into other things right before our eyes…

    • Oak Barrel

      phhht you think they don’t know that? Really now who here is the Physicist???Hmmm?

  • MB

    I don’t get how the big paradoxes are avoided by this theory if information can travel through time… One may send a message like “kill my parents A and B before I was born on date X” so the paradox is still there..

  • Will be interesting to see where religion goes on from this =)nnAngels & Demons anyone ?

  • The first person to send a message back in time to themself will rule the universe.

  • Carr

    On the topic of time travel, I thought I would share this video interview that I stumbled upon a few days ago. Ron Mallett is a renowned scientist who believes he has the skills to create a working time machine over the next 10/15 years. He backs up his ideas using Einsteinu2019s theories of Relativityu2026 check it out and let me know what you think!nn

  • maus3r

    guys…nnyou seem to me like little kids whose parents have told them that Santa is coming tonight and bring some surprises.nFor shure time travel is an interesting issue, but seriously timetravel is forbidden by thousands of logical and physical arguments.nAnd guys… you cannot actually believe some physicist who was driven by some journalist to give him some headline about timetraveling.nncheers, maus3rnnp.s. When I read “This is very interesting, we have known about the 11 dimensions for some time…” I can’t believe how blue eyed most people absorb the biggest hypes in physics for which wasn’t isn’t and won’t ever be proof in experiment, because it is not even falsifiable, it is not even wrong how this nice and wise website knows:n NO I do not get my knowledge from there, I just like that it tells the truth.


    Time travel? So many extreme positives and extreme negatives could come from this research. Obama would be so lucky if it were in the USA, He could go back in time and change all of the statements he made during his run for the Presidency so he would not look like a liar. Wouldn’t that be funny:nnBefore time machinenLet me be perfectly clear… Our young men and women soldiers should have never been sent to fight a war in the Mid East and I have a plan to bring them home in 2 years. Guantanamo Bay will be closed within one year of me being elected President. Health care will no longer be a problem for the working class citizen.nnAfter time machinenLet me be perfectly clear… Our young men and women soldiers should not be fighting the Bush wars, they should be sitting on aircraft carriers waiting to be sent into fight more important wars like overthrowing any government that is not a Democracy. Guantanamo Bay is not really a bad idea, it actually works really well since nowhere in the USA is capable of handling the nutjobs we house there. In the future, I will pass a law that states if you cannot afford health care for your family… The IRS will fine the hell out of you until you buy it!!

  • Joelola

    …too heady for me…I’ll just go back and read Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder.”

  • Joelola

    …too heady for me…I’ll just go back and read Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder.”

  • Pat

    It seems this concept generated enough interest that this very topic has become central to the plot of a Japanese anime just coming out this month, called “Stein’s Gate” – where a time traveler comes back from the future, and on the internet reveals that CERN discovers time travel and in 2036 the world is a dystopia with CERN it’s communist governing body :P But rather than the theory you mentioned here, they go with the theory that the LHC creates a mini-black hole, and while CERN denies it succeeded, in fact they did as of present time and are proceeding to research it. Seems my mind is not the only one stimulated into fictional tangents by this project :) -Patrick

  • this is awsome news… its too bad that the mainstreem media is so concerned about gosip and crime

  • Aldutch_s

    great its amazing

  • exe

    Time travelling is possible only to one relative location.

  • Lindak20

    I’d like to sign up to time travel . . . but, I’d probably need lots of $$$$$ whch I do not have, but just in case , sign me up

    • Andrew Richard McCree

      i just want to send a message to the past and try to change things

  • Cherylaw

    Very interesting theory,one of many of read, similar to the ekpyrotic model with regards to our 3 spacial dimensions being within higher dimensional space, if only technology could probe deeper. 

  • Amrita

    Is “Time Travel Machine” really exist .If yes then can I travel in it to go to the backward or in My past?& If yes then sir please tell me what is the procedure for that.


    As usual, we’re overthinking this. Ttravel is much simpler than you realize, and much more elegant than utilizing machines. I suggest pondering the following for a clue to how it is ‘truly’ possible.

    ‘Everything that has ever existed (or will exist)……exists.’

  • I want to travel back in time 20 years and see my 5 year old self so bad!

  • Myth

    Everyone watch Steins;Gate

    Explains what will happen if this succeeds

  • Dylan Green-Sky Dugan

    Thats only assuming that time travels in a straight line, whereas many theories, such as Hugh Everett’s Parallel Worlds Interpretation would suggest that rather than making a paradox, the timeline would break off into two. One timeline where the father was killed, and one where he was not.

    In the end everything we say about time travel, and paradoxes are only theory, since no one has ever done it before.

  • Sreekumar

    i was thinking about the same………………….And i found one remedy that is why not let’s create a virtual receiver ? And then let’s create the receiver in past or future by sending with the signals………….. and also we can capture some videos or photos by sending the video signals………………..

  • Sreekumar

    If you seriously you can …………… there is one idea……. to get the signals……. just send signal to future with programming to send back a message to a particular person or phone or device………… then that is possible………….. but it is not relevant to get signal from future…. there is no need of that……………. and i have also some of concepts just take a look in my post… then you’ll get an idea about that what i said

  • Andrew Richard McCree

    if this works and we can send messages back to the past something happened to me recently and I would like to change it

  • TimTai

    that is exactly what i was thinking. i thought i was alone.

  • Dave Gilbert Santana

    How can I travel in time and save lives?

  • Mike Travere

    incredible, Steins;Gate provides pretty accurate info about this and this also provides accurate data on the anime!

  • Mark

    So whatever the message would be would have to be broken down to these “special particles” and sent to a time where the message could be captured. So CERN is built. Not only to send be to receive. So if breaking a physical object down isn’t possible maybe try sound. Use CERN like a phone. ET phone home.

  • Benjy Lockspeiser

    Hello from the past / future, that you’ll never know!

    In very simple terms CERN discovered a way to encode information to send back in time to the past -these act like messages or time travel telegraphs, if you like.

    Once these messages were received by CERN in the past and interpreted, that’s when everything became jolly good fun!

    At first we changed the banal and frivolous things of the world in the cultural milieu of pop, film and media, such as Dolly’s braces in Moonracker, C3PO’s leg in Star Wars, or the Berenstein bears books, to see if they had an effect here, and we were delighted when they did.

    Time is rather like a guitar string, no matter where you insert an ‘event’ or ‘change’ along the timeline, the vibration reverberates across the whole timeline or string and has a ‘flattening effect’, that makes everything coterminous -no matter where the change occurred!

    But like the ripples in a pond after you throw in a stone, the further from the source of the change in time the weaker the ‘effects’ of the change, however great work is being done to ameliorate its potency.

    These experiments are now well established and such changes have been applied to many artifacts successfully, including international corporation’s brands at the behest of an extremely lucrative commercial contract with the US Government.

    Also being developed as part of a military application for the US, are ‘event listeners’ which listen for certain events and take some action if they occur, which again reverberate and make coterminous the effect across the whole time line. However, this is still a long way off.

    The most successful operation and scalp to date, was the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990, this actually took many many attempts before his death in prison and actually involved ‘political’ pressure being exerted from the future.

    In fact at one point in the timeline Mandela survived and was released in 1994, but died shortly after of an aggressive form of prostate cancer.

    The operation was repeated many times again later, until eventually he was released once more in 91, but died of pnemonia and was never a political force for good.

    So the operation was completed again and again, until we could get him out at the right time for his health and move him into the position he now appears in your history.

    So like Looney Toons… ahem…I mean Tunes, that’s all folks!

    Yours faithfully Benjy

    (cheers Tim, if you’re reading this on the world wide web, it is indubitably terrific, do you think we could get it running on Manc Mark one?)

  • Jeffrey Wymore

    The Flash had a cool theory as well.