The Science of Star Trek

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In 1994 Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre published "The Warp Drive: Hyper-fast Travel within General Relativity" in the electronic journal Classical and Quantum Gravity.

Phaser, Tricorders, Human Clones—Our Future?

Not every piece of Star Trek wizardry requires such a technological stretch. Handheld scanning devices like the "tricorder" are feasible. Already sensors exist that detect everything from brain abnormalities to mineral deposits, so squeezing all those capabilities into a handheld unit within 300 years is unlikely to present a problem.

Star Trek's photon torpedoes and phasers are nothing more than souped-up lasers. The U.S. military hopes to deploy lasers to destroy incoming missiles.

"Nemesis'" drama hinges on cloning, with the evil Romulans having bio-engineered Shinzon, the villain, using DNA from Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) of the Enterprise. Scientists have already cloned mice, pigs, cats, cows and sheep, among others. While only a tiny fraction of these clones are viable and many have genetic abnormalities, extending the technology to humans within the next three centuries seems inevitable.

Do the actors need to understand the science behind Star Trek to develop the characters they play?

"No, I don't need to," Spiner says, "and indeed I don't."

Marina Sirtis, who plays Deanna Troi, agrees. "To put it bluntly," she says, "my scientific knowledge stopped in physics when we got to prisms."

Whatever your level of understanding, Star Trek has credibility. After all, Batchelor points out, it's not as if Star Trek featured wizards.

"The characters succeed at fantastic tasks of engineering, not magic or spells," he says. "The heroes are engineers and scientists, and that is inspiring because there isn't much of that on TV."

So does Star Trek advance the cause of science?

"On a science level, where Star Trek has been beneficial is just in the area of imagination," Spiner says. "That's what Star Trek has always been about."

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