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Starships, Stargates, Wormholes and Interstellar Travel

Science Historian and Physicist Contemplates the Challenging Physics of Space Travel

Feb. 19, 2013

To some, the notion of being transported into distant galaxies through portals and warp drives is mere science fiction. But for James F. Woodward, how to build starships and stargates — and travel through wormholes — is real science.

The emeritus professor of history is an expert in the history of science and an experimental physicist conducting gravitation research and applying it to physics principles for space travel for more than 30 years.

Some in the scientific community, Woodward readily admitted, may not take his work seriously. "I expect people to say I'm nuts. But this is not science fiction," he said.

Woodward has compiled his research and published papers into a book that explains the physics and technologies needed for interstellar space travel. In "Making Starships and Stargates: The Science of Interstellar Transport and Absurdly Benign Wormholes," published in December by Springer, Woodward shares his theories, calculations, and even speculations, to construct rapid space transport and "gates" into the unknowns of space.

Inside his makeshift lab in the Physics Department, Woodward believes his experimental research relating to gravity and Einstein's theory of relativity is groundbreaking, if not revolutionary. Using exotic materials and technologies could hold the key to how "absurdly benign wormholes" and warp drives can allow humans to travel into space and time, he said.

"If my research is essentially correct, while I won't see starships and stargates in my lifetime, there's a fair chance others will see this technology in their lifetime," said the 71-year-old Woodward as he sat before a computer, closely eyeing the monitor showing a collection of data. Nearby, in a homemade contraption, his experiment continuously gathers data.

His research focuses on the presence of "Mach effects," the name given by Einstein, but credited to late 19th-century physicist Ernst Mach, relating to physical law and motion. Woodward offers this simple explanation of Mach's principle: "Inertial reaction forces are produced by the gravitational action of everything that gravitates in the universe."

In the preface, Woodward states that the 279-page book is not necessarily written for scientists or engineers, but for an "educated audience who has an interest in science and technology." Book proceeds are being donated to the nonprofit Space Studies Institute in Mojave in hopes that advancements in his research can be made.

The Anaheim Hills resident began his undergraduate education studying physics, earning both his bachelor's from Middlebury College and master's from New York University in physics. He switched to the history of science for his doctorate from the University of Denver, because at the time, the field of gravitation was not "very popular." His doctoral dissertation focused "on the history of attempts to deal with the problem of 'action-at-a-distance' in gravity theory from the 17th to the early 20th centuries."

Throughout his 33-year tenure at Cal State Fullerton, and even after retirement in 2005, Woodward has worked on what he calls his "small-scale, tabletop experimental research program."

Woodward pointed out that there are noted physicists working on similar research related to gravitation and propulsion techniques. One on-campus colleague in particular is collaborating with him for one good reason: "I want to go on a starship, don't you?" said Heidi Fearn, professor of physics. "This research could give us that chance, and while our reputations are on the line, and it's a bit of a risk, it's a risk worth taking."

Woodward's research on propulsion has real-world applications for providing an alternate propulsion system for satellite orientation and for propelling a spacecraft without lugging weighty fuel, said Fearn, a campus member since 1991 who earned her doctorate in physics at Essex University. Her research expertise is in quantum mechanics with an interest in gravitational physics.

"Jim's got a lot of perseverance to keep at this for all these years, a lot of courage for ignoring the critics, and is quite persuasive to get me to help! I've now got more work than I can handle for a few years to come, but it's fun and exciting and if someone with guts didn't start this kind of research then we would never start. Physicists would always shy away from it in fear of being ridiculed," said Fearn.

Fearn presented their research efforts at a NASA-Air Force Research workshop last fall, and plans to attend a September international conference in Beijing to make their case for future space propulsion technology.

Woodward, who has been dealing with life-threatening illness in recent years, quipped about the possibility of traveling to the distant past or future: "It's crossed my mind to go into the distant future and find remedies that will cure me."

While traveling through an "absurdly benign wormhole" would be the chance of a lifetime, he added that there is no time like the present. "I just feel incredibly lucky to have been able to write the book."

By: Debra Cano Ramos, 657-278-4027

Tags:  Academics & Research