Skip to main content
News_

How Einstein could help unlock the mysteries of space travel

11 August 2015
"Mathematically fiendish" theory given a modern rethink

Warp drives might be the stuff of science fiction, but they could be a step closer to reality if we look to Einstein's theory of gravity, according to a University of Sydney researcher.

Professor of Astrophysics, Geraint Lewis, from the School of Physics will discuss how new work on the famous theory is opening up fresh possibilities for space travel at his National Science Week talk, Einstein’s wonderful idea: A century of space-time, black holes and expanding universes on Monday 17 August.

Albert Einstein first penned his theory of general relativity in 1915, but we're only now starting to scratch the surface to see what the theory predicts, said Professor Lewis.

"One of the things coming out of the mathematics is a possible mechanism to allow us to travel through the universe nominally faster than the speed of light," he said.

It’s Star Trek language: people talk about ‘warp drives’ where you bend space and time, and that allows you to travel at any speed in the universe.
Professor Geraint Lewis

"In the next 100 or 200 years maybe the theory will give us solutions such as being able to travel efficiently and at high speeds across the universe."

Maths fiend

Einstein's theory of general relativity went largely ignored in the science community for many years after its publication as it was considered "mathematically fiendish", said Professor Lewis.

"We've now come to realise that the theory is very important to modern science as it not only describes the entire universe, it also predicts some very strange things, like black holes," he said.

Einstein's description of gravity underpins such modern innovations as Global Positioning Systems (GPS), which rely on differing clock rates in orbit and on earth. But extending this same understanding of how space and time can bend also holds exciting possibilities for our space travel ambitions, Professor Lewis will argue. 

He will point to the growing industry working to detect the behaviour of gravitational waves – ripples in the curvature of space-time first predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916 – as an example of the potential breakthroughs in the not-too-distant future.

Space-time wobble

"If you have really violent events in the universe it can cause space and time to wobble. It's been a dream for the past 50 years to detect these wobbles – and we are getting closer. There are some new gravitational telescopes being built that are trying to get the sensitivity to detect the waves," Professor Lewis said.

"Once we can detect gravitational waves, then we are going to be able to see the most violent explosions and collisions in the universe. That's going to be an absolutely amazing advancement: we'll have a brand new window on the universe."

While Einstein's general theory of relativity now sits with quantum mechanics as one of the major pillars of scientific understanding, Professor Lewis believes the next century will see many more surprises.

"It's still a bit of a theoretical curiosity for everyday people, but in terms of a scientific idea it's got wide-reaching consequences. When we finally unite Einstein's theory and quantum mechanics together, we're likely to reveal many more secrets of the universe."

Event details

What: Einstein’s wonderful idea: A century of space-time, black holes and expanding universes, part of Sydney Science Festival  2015 

When: Monday 17 August, 6.30 to 7.30pm

Where: Lecture Theatre 101 (Auditorium), Sydney Law School, University of Sydney

Cost: Free, registration requested

Bookings: Register online

Related articles

13 August 2015

Resetting the table to halt expanding waistlines

Can farmers, producers and regulators work together at all points of the food supply chain to help curb Australia’s growing obesity problem?

13 August 2015

How mobile phones could save us from obesity

A world-first intervention designed by Charles Perkins Centre researchers specifically for young people found mobile phones could improve health and halt weight gain. 

30 August 2015

Sydney alumni echo our vision of leadership

We celebrate the achievements and values of our students and alumni in a campaign that rolled out on campus, online, and on train stations, buses and street posters across Sydney last week.

27 August 2015

Eureka Prize for Associate Professor Michael J. Biercuk

Associate Professor Biercuk was recognised with the prestigious prize for contributions at the leading edge of quantum science research.

27 August 2015

Athletes score for disability and donors

Wheelchair basketball athletes from the NSW Institute of Sport and Wheelchair Sports NSW showed their support for the Pave the Way campaign this week.    

14 August 2015

Scientists should take a leaf out of wellness bloggers' books

How can we distinguish credible wellness information from unfounded pseudoscience? And why is it that wellness gurus are often taken more seriously than scientists? Jackie Randles writes.

14 August 2015

18 of our most exciting scientists on Twitter

It’s National Science Week this week from 15-23 August and for all you science lovers, we have created a list of the University of Sydney’s most exciting scientists on Twitter.

24 August 2015

Five things to think about when choosing a university course

How do you choose the right university, or the right degree, for you, asks Professor Duncan Ivison, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research). 

11 August 2015

Proof is in the breakfast cereal

The science of snap, crackle and pop has expanded beyond the breakfast bowl with an international research team using puffed rice cereal to explain the movement and crushing of porous materials when compressed.

25 August 2015

University of Sydney offers industry training to Radio Beijing Corporation

An industry training experience devised by the Department of Media and Communications is pairing RBC delegates with the latest broadcasting industry insights and research.