Have you ever wished you could travel back in time or explore the future? I am sure that most of us have dreamed of this at some time or another.
Some research in the project P³ has a time dimension and will allow us to travel through time. We will explore past events such as how pollution and plankton communities changed over time, or when a disease was introduced into mountain areas. And we will also travel to the future to see how landscape use will have evolved in 2050 (see blog).
In January, I had the great opportunity to experience time travel, an incredible experience to be shared with you. I know what you are thinking at the moment “No way, time travel is impossible” (see, I am not only a time traveler, I am also a mind reader). So, first, let’s clear that up.
Time travel is possible, science says
Research on time travel is based on the Theory of Special Relativity, developed by Albert Einstein. This theory says that space and time are aspects of the same thing: space-time. And this has weird implications, such as the fact that time is relative depending on how fast you are moving. The faster you move, the slower times goes by. This means that, if you are traveling at very high speed (like a cosmonaut), times goes slower for you than for stationary people. In September 2015, cosmonaut Gennady Padalka came back to Earth after 879 days in space (a record). He found Earth to be 1/44th of a second to the future (1). He literally traveled into the future for a supersplit second.
But is travel backward possible?
Stephen Hawking was so convinced of it that his memorial service was open to time travelers (2). In 2012, he explained that he also gave a party for time travelers but did not send out the invitations until after the party (2). He said “I sat there a long time, but no one came." In 2017, Benjamin K. Tippett and David Tsang presented, in the scientific journal Classical and Quantum Gravity, a model for a viable time machine (3). An assumption of the model is that time can be bent. According to Ben Tippett, this assumption is validated by the evidence that the closer you are to a black hole, the slower time is. He adds “My model of a time machine uses the curved space-time to bend time into a circle for the passengers, not in a straight line. That circle takes us back in time.”
So, time travel is possible, backward and forward. Now, let’s go back to our project P³.
Between Proust’s Madeleine and déjà vu
Last January, in the frame of P³, I was involved in the miracle of time travel.
My travel back in time started on a Friday evening when, after a long day from Leipzig to Paris by train, I finally arrived in the suburbs of Paris. I was welcomed by my parents at their home, where I spent my childhood. The following day, I woke up in my old room.
On Monday morning, I joined my colleagues Helen and Alessandra in Paris, to screen historic museum specimens for pathogen occurrence, with a focus on the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, I took the suburban train to reach Paris, plus a bus to the “Cuvier” bus stop early in the mornings. It was exactly like in old times when I was studying at the University Pierre and Marie Curie. Well, not all was like before, the train was even more overcrowded than 15 years ago, but no surprise that I was having a strong feeling of déjà vu.
Located at the 25 Cuvier street is the Laboratory Amphibians and Reptiles of the Museum of Natural History. I contemplated the Museum building, I walked through the laboratory door, and I had the impression that I was literally taking a step back in time. This was captivating.
Collections of the Museum are biological archives that can be accessed by national and international researchers. The Museum's amphibian collection is one of the most important collections in the world. It includes 150,000 species of which 2,300 are type specimens, belonging to 2,350 species of the 7,380 known (Online database).
A great team
Helen, Alessandra and I were welcomed by Prof. Anne-Marie Ohler, curator of Reptiles and Amphibians, who provided us space in the laboratory and introduced us to the staff in charge of helping her with the management of the collection. Our work would not have been possible without Anne-Marie, Jérôme, Yves, Marc and Manu and we are very grateful to them.
Manu went up and down the stairs so many times to open the doors for us. Yves and Marc carried countless heavy boxes full of jars between the zootheque (a large reserve where most animal collections are stored) and the lab. After one of us poured blood in the process, Jérôme and Yves kindly opened the remaining glass flutes at their own risks. They were incredibly more professional than us and managed to not injure themselves. On Friday evening, Jérôme and Yves also kindly waited that we were finished with verifications of information in the catalogues before closing the laboratory for the week-end.
All of them were very available to answer our questions and help us unravel the mysteries of the museum. More details about our work in the Laboratory Amphibians and Reptiles of the Museum of Natural History is coming soon in a next blog entry.
1. see Time Travel in Einstein's Universe: The Physical Possibilities of Travel Through Time, by Princeton physicist J. Richard Gott, 2015, Mariner Books ed.
3. https://www.sciencealert.com/physicists-just-came-up-with-a-mathematical-model-for-a-viable-time-machine. The original article can be found here: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1361-6382/aa6549/meta;jsessionid=F0836BB9CB9CAE5578D9E6B7E07F4CF5.c1.iopscience.cld.iop.org