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Physicist Pushing Boundaries of Time & Space

Mathematician Dr Matt Visser has a black hole on his desk that cannot be blamed for the loss of pens, keys, spare change or paperclips.

Dr Visser has recently returned from 24 years in the United States to take up a position in Victoria University's School of Mathematical and Computing Sciences. He is continuing research into black holes, 'wormholes', and 'time travel' - knowledge that stretches our understanding of time and space.

"Although to many people the concepts of wormholes and time travel seem like scientific fantasy, research being carried out right now is moving us closer to understanding the properties of phenomena such as black holes and intense gravity fields that might make this hyper travel possible," he says.

Dr Visser and his colleagues are working to create what they call an 'analog' to a black hole. Effectively they are developing a way of physically replicating the behaviour of a black hole in a laboratory setting - avoiding the matter-gobbling danger posed by the real thing.

"Doing experiments with real gravity is extremely difficult; and doing experiments with real black holes is possibly inadvisable, so a lot of work has recently gone into the idea of mimicking gravity by using condensed matter analogs," says Dr Visser.

The ideas being explored by Dr Visser and a network of colleagues around the world are rooted in Einstein's theory of relativity. Physicists are certain that black holes are created out of immense gravity fields which suck matter and light in - everything being accelerated to a point whereby the matter disappears with nothing ever escaping the black hole. Physicists are studying the related but distinct wormholes as possible conduits that may offer the possibility of travel over the immense distances of space and maybe even time.

"Wormholes are phenomena which, although not physically proven to exist, have been accepted theoretically by most scientists; whereas black holes are now considered proven by the scientific community,” Dr Visser says.

At the beginning of 2000, physicists such as Dr Visser had predicted that it would take 10 years to create a working model of a black hole. This figure has been revised in light of discoveries in 2001 that meant light was able to be captured for up to a millisecond before being sent on its way. Dr Visser thinks that a working model will be created within the next 5 years.

"Matt has been a highly visible theoretical mathematician who is frequently and widely referenced for his work on wormholes, from NASA web pages to sci-fi writers to theoretical journals. Victoria University is lucky to have him on staff," says Prof Peter Donelan, Head of the School of Mathematics and Computing Sciences.

Dr Visser is continuing a relationship with Victoria University that began when he matriculated in 1973. Following graduation he completed a PhD in physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to joining Victoria he was a Research Associate Professor at Washington University, St Louis, Missouri.

Matt Visser is available to interview, phone 04 463 5115 or contact Matt.Visser@vuw.ac.nz
Matt Visser’s website http://www.mcs.vuw.ac.nz/~visser

Issued by Victoria University of Wellington Public Affairs.
For further information please contact Juliet Montague phone +64-4-463 5105

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