The slightly unusual research has been undertaken by the Big Bang Fair, the annual STEM education and careers event.
The research involved a panel of top UK scientists as well as a group of 11 to 16-year-olds. Both groups were asked the same questions about when four futuristic technologies, based on popular science fiction, would become a reality.
Invisibility cloaks by 2030
The students predicted that invisibility will not be around until 2071, while the scientific experts believed that devices could be created by 2030. Chris Phillips, professor of experimental solid state physics at Imperial College London, said: “One way to create an ‘invisibility cloak’ is to use adaptive camouflage, which involves taking a film of the background of an object or person and projecting it onto the front to give the illusion of vanishing. We’re actually not that far away from this becoming a reality.”
Teleportation by 2080
The scientists, including Dr Mary Jacquiline Romero from the School of Physics and Astronomy at University of Glasgow, predict that teleporting could be a regular occurrence by 2080 (the students went for 2078). Dr Romero said that we have just recently achieved reliable teleportation, but only using electrons. She added: “The good thing about teleportation is that there is no fundamental law telling us that it cannot be done and with technical advances I would estimate teleportation that we see in the films will be with us by 2080.”
Time travel by 2100
The students predicted that time travel would be possible by 2078, whereas the scientists believed it may take longer – by 2100. Colin Stuart, science communicator and author of The Big Questions in Science, said that it had already been achieved: “If you travelled through space on a big loop at 10 per cent the speed of light for what seemed to you like six months, approximately six months and one day would have passed on Earth. You’d have time travelled a day into the future.”
On this basis, if you total the accumulated speed that cosmonaut Sergei Krivalev has travelled in space (he has spent more than 800 days up there), then he has time-travelled into his future by 0.02 seconds. Mr Stuart added: “Travel at (light) speed for 10 years and you’ll time travel nearly three weeks into the future. I would say we are looking at 2100 as a very optimistic timescale for travelling weeks into the future.”
Space tourism by 2015
The science experts were notably more confident than the students about space tourism. They expect commercial space flights to begin next year, while the students think it will take another 30 years.
While the research seems far-fetched, Paul Jackson, CEO of Engineering UK, said that discussing the “seemingly impossible things” they see in films and television is a good stimulant to get young people to think about what careers may exist in the future.
The research found that 19 per cent of the young people said they dream of becoming a “lightsaber developer”, while 22 per cent want to be a “teleporting instructor”.
Mr Jackson added: “This research shows that, although adults may be constrained by what we believe to be possible, the imagination and creativity of school children knows no bounds.
“Ultimately it will be the younger generation who make these sci-fi dreams a reality – and it’s crucially important to spark their interest now to supply the next cohort of scientists and engineers that Britain desperately needs to continue this research.”
The Big Bang Fair runs from March 11 to 14 in Birmingham. Visit www.thebigbangfair.co.uk