Why should we look for wormholes?

Professor Robert Owen, of Oberlin College, USA, tells us why hunting for wormholes is so necessary

Wormholes are a hypothetical concept, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't still hunt for them

Wormholes are a hypothetical concept, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t still hunt for them

I think it’s extremely important that we continue to search for and research the ideas behind wormholes. There are all sorts of [avenues for] research and we often find that some subjects are more practical than others. Obviously wormhole physics is not a very practical subject but wormholes and other exotic phenomena, provide a route to understanding some of the deepest questions about the nature of our universe – the arena of our very existence. For that reason alone, this is an exciting endeavour and deserving of support for its own sake.

It’s also important to note subjects that might seem highly impractical could eventually be central to our daily lives. Electromagnetic theory was at one time considered an impractical subject and now it’s fundamental to everyday life. Quantum theory has long been viewed as an arcane body of research, but now it’s essential for the inner workings of much modern technology.

Another important point is that all research is fundamentally interconnected with insights made in one field of study often transferred into others. For example, there is a long-standing symbiosis between research in particle physics and solid- state physics – the field that provides much of our understanding of the properties of materials. There is a constant conversation between these two fields of study and ideas are regularly shared between them. In a broader sense, this occurs throughout the sciences. So there’s really no way of knowing ahead of time what the eventual significance of any field of research might be.

Einstein’s general theory of relativity predicts quite clearly that if a wormhole existed, it would be unstable and we wouldn’t be able to use it for practically travelling through time. However, with all scientific questions, we can’t be completely certain that general relativity, in the form that we currently understand it, is the most accurate possible description of space-time in all situations. It could be that in certain situations general relativity becomes inaccurate, just as Newtonian physics becomes inaccurate near a black hole, for example. This means I certainly wouldn’t rule out the idea absolutely, until we have some good astronomical evidence.

Professor Robert Owen is an assistant professor at Oberlin College, USA, and researches black holes and neutron stars

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