Sunday, January 24, 2010

There and Back Again... A Physicist's Tale

Burkhard Heim was a physicist who died in 2001 at the ripe old age of 75. Many folks may not know the strange tale of this German scientist's strange climb to obscurity. But soon enough, he may be responsible for getting us to Mars. In 3 hours.

Heim, as a boy, had an ambition. As all children do. Mine was to be Optimus Prime. His was no less eccentric, he wanted to develop a method of space travel.

Heim's history sounds like something out of a comic book. But unlike Barry Allen's lab explosion giving him powers, Heim's accidental lab explosion left him without hands and mostly deaf and blind at the age of 19.

This did not stop Heim. Though he didn't go the super hero route, he did go the mad scientist route. He became an eccentric and a recluse. Going into almost complete isolation to work on his "theory of everything" (yes there is a 'theory of everything' look it up, it's crazy sauce).

But his "man behind the curtain" move did pan out. And today we have Heim's theory.

In a nutshell, it's a collection of ideas about the fundamental laws of physics. He developed a mathematical approach called "Selector calculus" which is based on quantizing spacetime itself.

In non-geek talk? Heim suggests that we could use a very strong magnetic field to push a spacecraft into another dimension. A dimension in where the physical laws that make the speed of light as fast as anything can go don't exist.

Sounds farfetched, right? And many scientists agree it does. But if it's real, it means we could travel to Mars in like 3 hours. To the nearest star in like 3 months.

The kicker?

It seems that the Department of Energy just so happens to have a device that could produce the uber-powerful fields needed to work. The device is called the Z-Machine.

If we are in fact successful in producing these fields, researchers could be testing a working engine within 5 years.

And a man, who you knew nothing about, who's life went unnoticed in a world of Einsteins, Hawkings, and Oppenheimers will finally come to light.

As the man who started our Star Trek.

Not bad for a mad scientist.

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