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MIT Student Holds Time-Travel Convention


If all goes according to plan, time travelers will slip across the space-time continuum and converge this Saturday on the campus of MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It's billed as the first and only time traveler convention. You see, you really only need one time traveler convention. Time travelers from all eras can simply make as many repeat visits as they wish. The convention organizer, Amal Dorai, is a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science at MIT.

Mr. AMAL DORAI (Graduate Student and Convention Organizer): I actually got the idea from an online comic called Cat and Girl, and they actually used the term `time traveler convention' to refer to someone's fashion sense. And...

BLOCK: Not in a flattering way, I take it.

Mr. DORAI: No, not in a flattering way at all. And so I thought, `Why not here? Why not now?' And so I just set it up.

BLOCK: And do you have any idea who's going to be showing up on Saturday?

Mr. DORAI: Well, I do know a lot of people are coming in the hopes of seeing a time traveler. Whether any time travelers come--I mean, that's the big question. But if it does happen, it'll be one of the biggest scientific events ever, you know? It's a low-risk, high-reward possibility.

BLOCK: Yeah, I guess so. And I would bet it would be ripe with the potential for imposters. You'd want to screen that out.

Mr. DORAI: Yeah, there are a lot of ways to prove that you're from the future. One of them could be to tell me in private, you know, what the stock market will do on Monday, exactly what it'll do. More beneficial things to do would be to give us, you know, the cures for cancer or AIDS or global poverty. There are a number of ways that a time traveler could prove themselves. And we hope that they'll bring us some of those things.

BLOCK: Well, you've helped your would-be guests out a bit. You've given latitude and longitude, figuring that MIT might not exist by the time that time travel really comes into being.

Mr. DORAI: It's true. It's a tricky problem. And, you know, universities do tend to last a long time, but not forever. So I have been criticized by various people. Some of them point out that there are tectonic plates shifting that'll move the location of this over several thousand years.

BLOCK: Oh. Yeah.

Mr. DORAI: Other people point out that the Earth will have moved in that time, and so I would need to give galactic coordinates. But to tell you the truth, I'm not too concerned about getting future aliens. I'd rather just stick with future humans for now.

So there are some interesting problems. And definitely it will be extremely surprising if a time traveler shows up. So we do have some events planned in the case that no one does show up.

BLOCK: Like what?

Mr. DORAI: Well, we've tentatively arranged for some MIT professors of physics to speak about the mathematics and physical implications of time travel. And we've also scheduled some bands to play. And two of them have written songs about time travel specifically for the occasion. And of course we've got food.

BLOCK: And what do you serve at a time traveler convention?

Mr. DORAI: It'll probably actually just be chips and salsa and that sort of thing.

BLOCK: (Laughs) Time machines--you got any parking issues with that, do you think?

Mr. DORAI: Yes. Actually, what we were thinking is if one time traveler came back and had fun at the party, he would go back into the future and tell all his friends to come, and then they would tell all their friends to come, and the convention would become a sort of Woodstock where people from all times came and congregated. And in that case, there would be a tremendous parking problem. We'd probably run into problems with the Boston police. We just hope that they'll be understanding, you know. It would be a major scientific and human event if it happened.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Dorai, best of luck. Have fun at your convention this weekend.

Mr. DORAI: Thank you.

BLOCK: Amal Dorai is a first-year graduate student at MIT and the organizer of this weekend's first and only time traveler convention. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.