Scientists haven’t actually called it that, perhaps because they haven’t read the Scott Fitzgerald book or watched the Brad Pitt movie. But they Benjamin Buttoned a subatomic particle, making it go back in time for a split second. You remember Mr Button who lived his life backwards, beginning as an old man and living a full life till he died as an infant?

Now scientists at laboratories in the US and Russia have succeeded in making a particle go back in time. It was a tiny particle, it didn’t have any other pressing engagements, it didn’t break any laws (of physics), but there it was. From such tiny seeds do mighty oaks grow; in fact, it's from such tiny particles that larger particles grow and it's from such larger particles that seeds grow.

Imagine a bullet fired from a gun. What the scientists have done is to get the fired bullet back in the gun. Or if that analogy is too violent, here’s another: it is as if a broken cup has been put together again and goes back to its pristine form. But that’s a long way off since it would involve a whole lot of particles, sub as well as regular, not to mention small, medium and large.

The formula is simple. Take a quantum computer, make some calculations, ensure the collapse of the wave function and hope for the best. It is only 50 per cent successful (at this stage) when more than a single particle is involved, but the algorithm seems to hold promise. Also, it can’t happen naturally but needs the touch of the human hand.

There are a number of steps to be taken before we can press a button and decide what age we should be permanently, for the rest of our lives, but the thought is exciting. Non-cosmetic non-ageing has a way of sounding exciting.

You can, if all goes well in the next 150 years or so, stand on a beach and command the waves to retreat, and they will. King Canute, if you remember that poem from your schooldays, didn’t actually command the waves to go back because he was arrogant; he did so to show fawning courtiers that nature was more powerful, and nothing he could do – despite his very impressive cv as King of England, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Scotland – would make him its equal. As the poem says, "…he sternly bade them never more to kneel to human clay,/ But alone to praise and worship That which earth and seas obey."

If you don’t believe me, wait till scientists roll back time far enough for us to be on the beach with Canute in the 11th century.

More from Suresh Menon:

Why you can’t lose weight any more

Friendships forged in fire alarms

When ‘five’ is the answer, what is the question?