Film will splash one of Thorne's big ideas – traversable wormholes through space and time – across popular culture Christopher Nolan, who directed the Dark Knight trilogy, has assembled Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Michael Caine to star in what has been billed as "a heroic voyage to the farthest borders of our scientific understanding". If you could pass through a wormhole and fast-forward to November 2014, odds are many people will be talking about Kip Thorne and the possibility of time travel. Hollywood's publicity machine will be in overdrive promoting a blockbuster film, Interstellar, which draws on research by the theoretical physicist. Christopher Nolan, who directed the Dark Knight trilogy, has assembled Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Michael Caine to star in what has been billed as "a heroic voyage to the farthest borders of our scientific understanding". The real star, however, will be Thorne and his planet-sized brain. The 73-year-old scientist is already revered among peers for advancing some of Albert Einstein's most intriguing theories about relativity and gravity fields. The film will splash one of Thorne's big ideas – traversable wormholes through space and time – across popular culture. "Closed timelike curve is the jargon for time travel. It means you go out, come back and meet yourself in the past," he said in an interview this week, seated in a sun-dappled courtyard at the California Institute of Technology. "Whether you can go back in time is held in the grip of the law of quantum gravity. We are several decades away from a definitive understanding, 20 or 30 years, but it could be sooner than that." The jury, in other words, is still out on time travel. Serious science used to shun the topic as a realm for cranks and pulp fiction but Thorne, holder of multiple awards and honorary degrees, and adviser to Nasa and Congress as a member of the National Academy of Sciences' space science board, has made it respectable. In 1988 he published a paper titled Wormholes, time machines and the weak energy condition, with two students, Michael Morris and Ulvi Yurtsever. In 1994 he published a book, Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy, which was translated into six languages. On the heels of Thorne's big-screen debut next year will be the centenary of the 1915 general theory of relativity, which Einstein elaborated while teaching at Caltech in the early 1930s. Thorne, who helps run the university's Einstein Papers Project, said the great man's insights were stimulating recent, potentially revolutionary advances in quantum physics. "How the universe was born will be definitively answered by these new laws. What goes on in the core of a black hole will be definitively answered. All the big mysteries of physics and cosmology are likely to be answered by those laws." It is rumoured that Interstellar, a project Nolan inherited from Steven Spielberg, will feature a character based on Thorne, a colourful figure who wears jeans, Birkenstocks, Hawaiian shirts and a battered cowboy hat. He regularly makes scientific wagers with Stephen Hawking, a close friend, and invariably wins. (Hawking's penalties have included forking out for a subscription to Penthouse magazine). Thorne's foray into Hollywood – just 15 miles away but a different galaxy from the lawns and libraries of his Pasadena campus – comes amid an exciting, turbulent period for astrophysics and science in general. Nasa's Mars rover and private space missions have rekindled interest in the final frontier at the same time the US radical right has challenged mainstream scientists over evolution and climate change. Thorne praised Elon Musk's Space X for being cheaper and nimbler than government programmes and gave qualified backing for manned missions. "Sending people into space is very important culturally. That's really the justification. You cannot rationally justify it on the basis of the science and technology we get out of it."
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