Dead Pixels Do Time Travel


Written by Peter Simmons
19 Monday 19th November 2007

Peter brought with him Gordana (Keyboards), Lone (Vocals) and Graeme (Guitar). The talk was given in equal parts by Ken Campell, raconteur and stand-up comedian, and Roland Mallet, professor of physics at the University of Connecticut... via video link from Connecticut.

Being in a band, there is always a lot of discussion of travel times, but a surprising absence of discussion on time travel. So when Don't Panic asked us to go and check out a lecture on practical time travel, the crew of the good ship Dead Pixels decided to do some boldly going.

The Dana Centre itself is an odd little carbuncle of municipal chic, nestling against the westernmost buttock of the Natural History Museum like a nervous schoolboy amidst Oxford dons. Once inside, the crowd is an odd cocktail; the obligatory students (it is a free event after all), physicists, journalists, spiritualists and good old London mentalists crowded into a lecture hall with slightly funkier than average chairs.

Graeme ends up missing the introduction waiting for some spicy meat things on sticks at the bar. "If it works, I'll come back and watch the beginning later," he says. First up is a whirlwind tour of some useful background by Ken Campbell's eyebrows, whose attendant mouth appears to be competing for the limelight by approaching each sentence in much the same way a speedway rider approaches a corner.

The eyebrows get confusing

Lone spends much of this segment trying to hide under her seat and is visibly relieved when the intermission arrives. "Why did we sit at the front?" she asks. "I swear that Ken Campbell was eyeing me up!"

Graeme is entertained, but baffled. "He was funny, but I didn't really get all the stuff about the decisions leading to new universes", and promptly heads for the bar. Fortified with beers (which most of us think would be a good idea for all lectures) we head back for the main event.

Graeme fills in some gastric gaps as Peter fills in some intellectual ones for Lone

All eyes are on the projector screen from which the professor will deliver his lecture via videolink from Connecticut. Graeme looks a bit confused. "So he isn't going to be here?" I have to admit he won't. "So it's just like YouTube?" asks Lone. Further pressed, I must confess that there are a few of his lectures on YouTube. "So, um , why are we here?" she presses. Graeme reaches an epiphany: "Youtube doesn't have a bar!"

After a few false starts, and impromptu factoid strafing by the ever voluble Mr. Campbell, the video link is established and we move on. Professor Mallett is a consummate showman with a fine line in props (Coffee cups, rubber sheets, a slinky!). The whole experience is a tad home-shopping at times, but he answers even the more
ludicrous questions at the end with genuine grace and humility.

The truly startling thing about Mallett's theories is that they are based on the very mainstream science of Einstein’s theory of relativity. One of Einstein's revelations was that objects actually distort the fabric of space itself with their weight. This effect will be familiar to anyone who has ever shared an air-bed; however far apart you start the night, by morning you are both sunk into a balloon-rimmed well of discomfort. This, in essence, is how gravity works.

Not happy with this, Mallett went on to show that not only is space elastic, but that time and space are inextricably linked, much like the bodies of our air-bedding couple. Whatever you do to space affects time and vice versa. Mallett's big idea is to use this effect to distort space to such a degree that time within a small region is bent into a loop allowing one to travel forwards in time and still end up before you started.

The next day we convene for a post mortem at rehearsals and conclude that it was a pretty unusual, but not unpleasant, way to spend an evening. But like all good mind stimulators we have been left with more questions than answers.

Lone still wants to know how it all works.

I want to know how it differs in theory from Kip Thorne's rotating wormhole model.

Gordana wants to know why a science museum couldn't get a video link working.

Graeme wants to know if he can build it from a DeLorean.

Dead Pixels are currently recording their next single 'When the Lights Go Out', which will be released in the New Year. If you want to get some Pixel action before that head down to Sketch on 22 Nov or catch them at Glo-Ball Hypercolour at Nambucca on 14 Dec.

The Dana Centre is a collaboration between the BA (British Association for the Advancement of Science), the European Dana Alliance for the Brain and the Science Museum. It regularly holds talks just as fascinating as this one, so get yourselves down there for a bit of a brain tickle.

Don't Panic attempt to credit photographers and content owners wherever possible, however due to the sheer size and nature of the internet this is sometimes impractical or impossible. If you see any images on our site which you believe belong to yourself or another and we have incorrectly used it please let us know at and we will respond asap.