Tag Archives: Star Trek

Bad Physics in Movies: When Hollywood gets science wrong

Bad physics is baked into the fabric of movies and TV shows, it’s inescapable. Almost every action film you could care to name features a gun firing and sending the victim recoiling with enough force to lift them off their feet. The truth is, due to Newton’s third law — simply stated as ‘every action has an equal and opposite reaction’ — if the bullet leaves the gun with enough force to lift someone off their feet, it should exert the same force on the firer. Either throwing them back or causing enough force to snap their wrist. 

Oh… but it goes so much further than this. A well-placed bullet to a petrol tank won’t blow up a car. An explosion powerful enough to lift our hero off their feet should also turn their insides to jam. And a lit cigarette won’t ignite a puddle of gas.

Bad physics isn’t just restricted to the action or sci-fi genres, either. Whilst watching James Cameron’s Titanic (1997) — physics overlord Neil DeGrasse Tyson noticed that the stars in the sky above the sinking ship were all wrong given its geographical location.

That really leads us to pose the question; how pedantic should we be regarding science whilst indulging in media that requires the suspension of disbelief? 

I’m going to assume you answered that question “very pedantic indeed” and detail noticeable physics-faux pas in some of Hollywood’s most treasured movie franchises. 

You should be warned, spoilers and extreme pedantry lie ahead. 

It’s a Bird. It’s a Plane…

It would be hard to argue against the assertion that Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman is not only the grand-daddy of all superhero movies but has become a genuine slice of Americana. Yet, as much of a verified classic as it is, Superman has some major physics problems.

The film, publicised with the tag-line ‘You’ll believe a man can fly’ comes loaded with the usual superhuman feats that comic book readers had witnessed the Man of Steel perform in DC Comics publications since the late 1930s, but one of the Kryptonian’s accomplishments during the film’s unusually grim finale caused even the most invested fan to raise an eyebrow. 

We’ll get to that, but first, let’s talk about Superman’s iconic first appearance in costume above the skies of Metropolis. Margot Kidder’s acerbic reporter and Supes’ love interest in the film–and pretty much everywhere else–Lois Lane dangles from a helicopter, which itself is perched precariously atop the roof of the Daily Planet.

Just as she loses her grip and plummets, Clark Kent, portrayed by Christopher Reeves, tears his shirt revealing the iconic S-shield of Superman, before making a full change in a revolving door and taking to the sky to catch Lane.

The rescue leads to the classic exchange between the two: “Easy miss. I’ve got you.”

“You’ve got me, but who’s got you?”

How much of a heroic rescue this would have actually been is in serious doubt, however. To determine just how deadly this ‘rescue’ would have been let’s figure out just how fast Lois was travelling when she hit the arms of the Man of Steel. 

I watched the clip from the film and it looks like Lois is falling for about 11 seconds. Let’s calculate the velocity she is travelling at when she reaches Superman. 

Our calculation means that Lois hits Superman’s arms at about 240 miles per hour! It should be noted that the above calculation doesn’t take into account wind resistance. Fortunately, a team of undergraduates at the University of Leicester calculated just that, estimating that factoring in wind resistance Superman catches Lois travelling at 78.6 m/s — or about — 174 mph!

The team believe that as long as Superman was stationary when he catches the reporter, she would escape with severe bruising. They estimate the pressure she experiences is around 9 x 10⁴ Pa —  less than the approximate 1.7 x 10⁵ Pa required to break a small bone.

The truth is, Lois would come to as sudden a stop and experience just as much force if Superman caught her and immediately halted her motion as she would from hitting the pavement. 

But, if this daring rescue sets our ‘physics-sense’ tingling, the feat the Man of Steel performs at the conclusion of the same film will be like a fog-horn going off between our ears. 

If I Could Turn Back Time

At the climax of Superman (1978) Lex Luthor nukes the San Andreas fault causing massive earthquakes, as part of his plan to raise real estate prices in the area (eh?). Whilst Superman races around saving school buses and acting as a train track in lieu of a downed section of the railroad–let’s not even get into the physics of that stunt– Lois is buried by a landslide, trapped in her car.

The Mand of Steel arrives too late. As he pulls her from her car, he realises the reporter is dead. The movie has already given Clark and the audience a stark reminder that even though he’s Superman — Clark is still a ‘man’. He watches his adoptive father Jonathan die of a heart attack, knowing that even with his considerable powers he is still (mostly) bound by the laws of nature. 

Until he isn’t…

Driven by grief, Supes flies into space, whipping around the globe turning it backwards. This would be pretty pointless, but in this case, it happens to also turn back time allowing Superman to rescue Lois, not just from certain death but from literal death.

Even if reversing the rotation of Earth would reverse time — and why would it — surely stopping Earth’s rotation and reversing it should require the exertion of a pretty tremendous force on the planet. Wouldn’t this do way more damage than Lex’s nuke?

Earth is spinning at 1100 mph if it suddenly ‘stops’ its atmosphere would keep going, likely resulting in everything that isn’t very firmly secured to bedrock being flung into space. That’s according to NASA anyway. So Superman had between hope that spinning Earth in the opposite direction reverses time or he’s going to return to a pretty barren planet. Possibly even one with a large crack — or several in it due to the massive force required to halt its rotation.

Maybe, just try and revive Lois with CPR next time Clark. 

In a Galaxy Far, Far Away… Physics Doesn’t Work… 

Look, no one should really expect Star Wars to get physics right. George Lucas’ tale is underpinned by the struggle to control a mysterious universe-spanning magical force — imaginatively titled ‘the Force’ — by what are ostensibly space wizards, thus making it more fantasy than sci-fi. That doesn’t mean we should overlook some real glaring errors though.

In Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), when Luke and Obi-Wan first meet intergalactic rogue Han Solo in the Cantina on Mos Eisely if his roguish nature didn’t put them off a trip in the Millenium Falcon, Solo’s description of the craft as “…the ship that made the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs…” should definitely have them questioning the smuggler’s technical ability.

Solo is clearly referring to the vessel’s speed as he continues by remarking that the Falcon has also outrun several imperial ships. Problem is, a parsec is, of course, a measure of astronomical distance, not time — equivalent to about 3.0857×10¹⁶ metres or 19 trillion miles!

During the film’s sequel, Empire Strikes Back (1980) Chewie will definitely need a toothbrush for his trip aboard the Falcon. The crew travel from the ice world of Hoth to Bespin with a broken hyperdrive, meaning it should be restricted to just below lightspeed. As the canonical distance between the planets is about 5.0 x 10⁴ light-years, the journey should take about 5,000 years!

Distance also plays a problem in the sequel when Han and crew enter an asteroid field. The truth is that entering a real asteroid cluster wouldn’t pose much of a navigational problem to the rebels as the average distance between objects in an asteroid belt is 600,000 miles–or more than 75 times the diameter of Earth!

The Millenium Falcon isn’t the only physics-defying vessel in the Star Wars series. Far from it.

In Space, No-one Can Hear a Physics Nerd Groan

Iconic is probably the only word to describe the ships in Star Wars. The designs of the ships used by both the rebels and the empire are so striking that they changed the idea of crafts in science fiction irreversibly. 

What George Lucas envisioned for the franchise was a series of daring dog-fights in space, and arguably this idea is never better realised than at the end of Star Wars as Luke and the rebels race to exploit a tiny chink in the armour of the Death Star (seriously, you couldn’t have put a grate over that?).

The sounds made by the ships are perfect as they dodge and weave during the battle, and who can forget the agonising scream of a strafed R2D2? There’s just one problem…

We shouldn’t hear anything. 

In the near-perfect vacuum of space, there is no medium for sound — a mechanical vibration — to propagate through. 

One film that gets this right is Stanley Kubrick’ unforgettable 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). In fact, Kubrick’s masterpiece, based on a story by Arthur C. Clarke gets a lot of its science right. Much of this is due to the fact that Kubrick was aware of NASA’s quest to put a man on the moon — something they would achieve the following year — so didn’t want mankind’s forthcoming giant leap to date his film.

Of course, the sounds of the crafts zipping through space isn’t the only thing that would need to be stripped from Star Wars if that lack of atmosphere in space was factored in. Ships in space couldn’t turn and bank the way craft did during aerial dogfights in the Second World War as they don’t experience air pressure like that banking aircraft on Earth encounter. It’s likely that any attempt to turn would result in endless banking.

The space dogfight described above ends with the titanic explosion of the Death Star.

The problem is, fire needs a fuel to burn and no atmosphere in space means no air and no oxygen to act as fuel for this massive fireball. Of course, we can speculate that there has to be oxygen in the Death Star itself, but nowhere near enough to give us the conflagration we see as the Death Star erupts.

The explosion would be more like a camera flash accompanied by flying debris. Also missing, that amazing ring of flame that perfectly caps off the scene.

At Least Star Trek Gets it Right… Right? 

Star Trek, at least the earlier iterations of the show such as the Original Series (1966–1969) and the Next Generation (1987 -1994), is often regarded as the science fiction show that ‘gets it right’ more so than say Star Wars. But, whilst the writers of Star Trek often endeavoured to ground stories with some ‘real science’ and the show has certainly made a mark on the scientists and science communicators of today, the franchise still suffers from some glaring inaccuracies.

The main problem faced by Star Trek is one that is common to any space-faring drama serial or continuing story — the vast scale of space. In order for Kirk, Picard and Janeway to encounter a new alien species almost every week for 24 episodes a year, the showrunners of Star Trek really have to ignore the vastness of space and its relative emptiness. 

In the year the first episode of the Original Series, or ToS as the fans call it was aired, the Apollo craft took three days to travel the approximate 375,000 km to the Moon. This is an object that is relatively close to the earth. Meanwhile, on another channel Kirk and Spock are hopping between star systems in a matter of moments. Considering the distance between the solar system and the nearest star system — home of the star Proxima Centauri — is a whopping 4.22 light-years (yes Han, light-years are a measure of distance too) or forty trillion kilometres — you can see the problem the showrunners immediately faced.

Working around these immense distances requires the Enterprise–and most other starships in almost all forms of science fiction– to travel at speeds exceeding that of light. Thus, for such shows to exist and provide a narrative that is more thrilling than forty years of regular duties aboard a starship, they must break this very fundamental limit of physics.

The ‘speed limit of the Universe’ may sound something that is arbitrary, but the idea that nothing with mass can travel faster than light, and the accompanying tenet that accelerating an object of mass to the speed of light would take an infinite amount of force, are crucial to our understanding of modern physics, thus making ‘warp speed’ an impossibility.

Of course, Star Trek fans being an exceptionally clever bunch consisting of mathematicians and physicists of near-genius, have a workaround for this problem. In 1994, the journal Classical and Quantum Gravity published an article by Miguel Alcubierre, a Mexican physicist, entitled ‘The warp drive: hyper-fast travel within general relativity.’

The researcher, also an avid star trek fan, lays out a potential workaround for faster than light travel, explaining that a device that could contract space in front of it, whilst simultaneously contracting space behind it could allow a ship to move at speeds greater than that of light.

Even allowing for this, it still doesn’t quite absolve the problem of the vast distances involved in space travel. Some early episodes of ToS featured the Enterprise crew making trips between galaxies. The average distance between galaxies is 9,900,000 light-years, meaning that even travelling at speeds beyond that of light, such intergalactic jaunts still wouldn’t be feasible in the time scales depicted in the show.

The Beauty of the Suspension of Disbelief

So, should we let these clear violations of the laws of physics bother of us when we are watching a Hollywood movie or TV show? 

For me, science fiction and action movies and TV are about escapism. In fact, what bothers me more is when these forms of fiction try to pander too much to science , attempting to pay it very hollow lip service  and still get it wrong . I’m looking at you Star Trek: Discovery .

Of course, if you can’t disconnect and accept the technobabble found in shows like Stra Trek there are several alternatives that more closely reflect ‘actual science.’ 

I’ve already mentioned the pains that Kubrick went to, so that 2001: A Space Odyssey would appear as a somewhat real a depiction of space travel. More recently, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (2014) employed theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Kip Thorne as a consultant to ensure that the physics surrounding the movie’s black hole — Gargantua — reflected current scientific thinking and theories. 

The result was a film that was lauded as depicting science fiction’s most accurate portrayal of a black hole. In an interview prior to the film’s release Thorne remarked: “Neither wormholes nor black holes have been depicted in any Hollywood movie in the way that they actually would appear. This is the first time the depiction began with Einstein’s general relativity equations.”

With that said, the above movies aren’t perfect, and why should they be? The occasional violation of the laws of physics in service of a thrilling plot, a breath-taking action scene, or an inspiring feat of heroism is just fine by me.

The truth is, as much as I love science when the opening bars of John Williams’ Superman theme I couldn’t care less about the laws of physics being flaunted on screen.

web africa

Boeing develops force field reminiscent of Star Trek

Boeing, a major aircraft and military manufacturer, just secured a patent that describes a Star Trek-like force shield, meant to protect vehicles operating in war zones. I love it when engineers are inspired by science fiction – it means that the authors really did a great job, not only at foreseeing the future, but also in offering the incentive to bring these sort of contraptions to real life.

web africa

A Star Wars force shield might be an overstatement though. The patent, called “Method and system for shockwave attenuation via electromagnetic arc,” reports how the system in question might deflect shock waves. This means it can’t shield against matter, like flying bullets or shrapnel. When a wave moves faster than the speed of sound in a liquid, gas or plasma it is a shock wave. This is characterized by  nearly discontinuous change in pressure, temperature and densityof the medium. This disturbance means that shock waves are essentially energy carriers, and if you’re unfortunate enough to be near a blast shock waves might even kill you.

force field boeing

So, while the design isn’t meant for bullets, the fact that it might work for shock waves is impressive in itself. Here’s how it works: sensors first detect an incoming blast, then send this information to an arc generator which ionizes the air around the target to produce a plasma field. This field is distinct in temperature, density and/or composition from the surrounding medium, and this way it acts as a buffer between the shock wave and vehicle, absorbing some of the incoming energy.

force field boeing

According to the patent, “The arc generator may create the second medium by creating an electric arc that travels along an electrically conductive path utilizing at least one of high intensity laser pulses, pellets forming a conductive ion trail, sacrificial conductors, projectiles trailing electrical wires, and magnetic induction”.

“Such embodiments as described above may reduce the energy density of the shockwave by creating a second medium in the path of the advancing shockwave that reflects, refracts, absorbs and deflects at least a portion of the shockwave,” the patent reads.

Although the patent uses a vehicle for its case study, the technology could very well work for submarines as well since the arc generator could ionize water as well. Check out the full patent details and specs below.

The Enactive Torch uses infra-red sensors to "see" objects in front of it. Photo: Luis Favela

Star Trek walking cane lends virtual touch to the blind

Visual impairment is among the top 10 causes of disability in the US and it’s one of the fastest growing.  While there are currently six million Americans aged 40 or over suffering from visual impairment, either low vision or fullon blindness, studies estimate this figure to double by 2040 as a result of rising diabetes cases and other chronic diseases that also affect vision, as well as aging population. Cybernetic vision – electronic vision implants connected to the brain – is but one of the myriad of high tech solution being discussed at the moment which aims not only to help the visual impaired navigate their surroundings, but regain sight to almost full degree. Until this happens, however, we might be better off discussing more practical solutions.

Virtual touch

The Enactive Torch uses infra-red sensors to "see" objects in front of it. Photo: Luis Favela

The Enactive Torch uses infra-red sensors to “see” objects in front of it. Photo: Luis Favela

The walking cane has helped the blind navigate obstacles for thousands of years, and its design has remained largely unchanged since – a sophisticated stick. What looks like a combination between a TV remote and a Star Trek tricorder, the Enactive Torch aims to help all the aging baby boomers, injured veterans, diabetics and white-cane-wielding pedestrians navigate their surroundings using 21st century tech.

[ALSO READ] Device turns images into sound, allowing the blind to ‘see’

The device developed at University of Cincinnati is fitted with infrared sensors that estimate how far and how large obstacles are, conveying this information via vibrations to an attached wristband. The vibrations are subtle or more intense depending how close the obstacles are. This allows the user to make decisions on how to move about using a virtual touch as a guide.

“Results of this experiment point in the direction of different kinds of tools or sensory augmentation devices that could help people who have visual impairment or other sorts of perceptual deficiencies. This could start a research program that could help people like that,” says Luis Favela, a graduate student in philosophy and psychology.

UC's Luis Favela explains a task to Mary Jean Amon during a demonstration of Favela's research experiment in the Perceptual-Motor Dynamics Lab.

UC’s Luis Favela explains a task to Mary Jean Amon during a demonstration of Favela’s research experiment in the Perceptual-Motor Dynamics Lab.

For their experiment, 27 undergraduate students with normal or corrected-vision were asked to judge how well they would be able to pass through an opening just a few feet in front of them without shifting their normal posture. This assessment was made in three distinct situations: only using their vision, using a cane while blindfolded and using Enactive Torch when blindfolded. The whole idea was to see how judgments differ when these are made under the influence of vision or the Enactive Torch. Most surprisingly, all three judgements were equally accurate.

“When you compare the participants’ judgments with vision, cane and Enactive Torch, there was not a significant difference, meaning that they made the same judgments,” Favela says. “The three modalities are functionally equivalent. People can carry out actions just about to the same degree whether they’re using their vision or their sense of touch. I was really surprised.”

So, does this mean that the Enactive Torch is useless? Judging from these results alone would give the device far too less credit than it deserves. The findings suggest that wielding a cane blindfolded will help you navigate your surroundings just as well as you would using a pair of healthy eyes. False. Try doing that on stairs, traffic, unfamiliar places with varied obstacles. Some more thorough examinations and experiments would have been much more helpful.

“If the future version of the Enactive Torch is smaller and more compact, kids who use it wouldn’t stand out from the crowd, they might feel like they blend in more,” he says, noting people can quickly adapt to using the torch. “That bodes well, say, for someone in the Marines who was injured by a roadside bomb. They could be devastated. But hope’s not lost. They will learn how to navigate the world pretty quickly.”

The results were presented at the American Psychological Association’s (APA) annual convention, held Aug. 7-10 in Washington, D.C.

Nabil Simaan testing a surgical robot that he designed. (Joe Howell / Vanderbilt)

Sensitive robots to dramatically improve machine-assisted surgery

More than on one occasion, the Enterprise’s chief medical officer Dr. Leonard McCoy laments how barbaric surgeons of the XXth century must have been to actually cut patients during surgery. While many of Star Trek’s memorabilia are far from having become reality, medicine has made important strides forward in some aspects comparable to Doc. McCoy’s methods. A working tricorder might soon breach the realm of SciFi, and as far as modern surgery is concern we’re finally nearing the age where the hand directed scalpel will become obsolete.

Doctors today use the best technology at their disposal to perform minimally invasive surgery. Using lasers, finely tuned and precise robots and myriad of sensors, surgeons can perform a minimal amount of cuts to reach their objectives and thus avoid risks of displacing important tissue or blood vessels. Actually, it’s now possible for the best doctors at a hospital in the US to remotely perform surgery on a patient in India all via the internet, for instance.

It’s truly remarkable, yet there are some tradeoffs to conventional surgery. For one, surgeons lose the type of  awareness they have during open surgery like feeling pressure on organs and vital blood vessels. A team of researchers directed by Nabil Simaan, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University, was recently awarded a $3.6 million grant part of the National Robotics Initiative to develop a new kind of machine intelligence that will assist doctors by increasing surgery awareness through the use of sensitive robots.

Nabil Simaan testing a surgical robot that he designed. (Joe Howell / Vanderbilt)

Nabil Simaan testing a surgical robot that he designed. (Joe Howell / Vanderbilt)

Surgeons compensate their lack of awareness though precise mapping of their cuts’ trajectory. This is achieved using tools like MRI, X-ray imaging and ultrasound to map the internal structure of the body before they operate, as well as  miniaturized lights and cameras to provide them with visual images of the tissue immediately in front of surgical probes during operation.

Simaan and his team seek to take things to the next level by providing some kind of sensory feedback comparable to touch. Their plan is adding various kind of sensors and integrate the information these provide with  pre-operative information like the maps mentioned before to produce  dynamic, real time maps that precisely track the position of the robot probe and show how the tissue in its vicinity responds to its movements.

Surgery of the future

Adding pressure sensors to robot probes will provide real time information on how much force the probe is exerting against the tissue surrounding it. Such sensor data can also feed into computer simulations that predict how various body parts shift in response to the probe’s movement. Also, the team will  generate models that estimate locations of hidden anatomical features such as arteries and tumors .

At the heart of this initiative is a technique called Simultaneous Localization and Mapping that allows mobile robots to navigate in unexplored areas.  Actually, with all of these in place some surgical procedures will become semi-automatic like  tying off a suture, resecting a tumor or ablating tissue.   These maps will form the foundation of the Complementary Situation Awareness (CSA) framework.

“We will design the robot to be aware of what it is touching and then use this information to assist the surgeon in carrying out surgical tasks safely,” Simaan said.

The designs Simaan and his team will produce in their project might have applications that move beyond medicine. The researchers envision their CSA framework being used to disarm a bomb or by a human user operating a robotic excavator to dig out the foundation of a new building without damaging the underground pipes or by rescue robots searching deep tunnels for injured miners.

“In the past we have used robots to augment specific manipulative skills,” said Simaan. “This project will be a major change because the robots will become partners not only in manipulation but in sensory information gathering and interpretation, creation of a sense of robot awareness and in using this robot awareness to complement the user’s own awareness of the task and the environment”


Star Trek holodeck-like imaging offers a whole new perspective on virtual reality


Computer scientists at University of Illinois at Chicago have created what can only be described as a real-life Star Trek holodeck. Now, it’s not nearly as impressive as its SciFi counterpart, after all futurist Tim Huckaby predicted it will take some ten years before a full blown version might be created, still virtual reality is about to step in a whole new ground, thanks to innovations just like this.

Called CAVE2, it features screens eight feet high wrapped in 320 degrees – once you step inside, you’re in a whole new world be it aboard the Starship enterprise, on a voyage to Mars, or take you for a stroll between the blood vessels in the brain. The latter is what makes it a truly useful addition to science, not just a geeky high-tech cave.

The thing is, technology and science is so advanced nowadays that data is available on a myriad of aspects. However, it’s still up to scientists, who are just humans after all, to put all the pieces together. In a virtual environment where you can explore and interactively see what happens, like folding a protein or adding drugs to see how they react and such, this whole process runs a whole lot smoother. Hopefully, we’ll see more CAVE2 like labs in the future.

The video below explains how CAVE2 works and presents the concept in greater detail. Enjoy!

warp drive

NASA: ‘warp drive is plausible’ – experiments under way

star trek warp drive

We’ve seen a lot of concepts cross the realm of SciFi into reality, however transferring fabrics of imagination to practical applications which respect the laws of physics can be troublesome, if not sometimes impossible. If in a book or TV show, like Star Trek for instance, things like teleportation, time travel or faster than light speeds are explained and applied in terms as simple as flicking a switch, in reality the laws of physics can not be re-written. Inspiration is a wonderful thing, and Star Trek, for one, not only offered some incredible ideas to engineers and inventors across the world, but also nurtured and directed a myrriad of enthuasists towards studying science.

The latest trekkie spin-off is the warp-drive. The concept is simple, in words – nothing can travel faster than the speed of light in space; however, if you’re not in space, you might be able to get around this law –  a quantum loophole. Now, bear with me. The whole concept of warp drive revolves around warping space around an object. This warp field, which in theory can be created with a ring of exotic matter wrapped around a football shaped spaceship,  will create a region of contracted space in front of it and expanded space behind.

“Everything within space is restricted by the speed of light,” explained Richard Obousy, president of Icarus Interstellar, a non-profit group of scientists and engineers devoted to pursuing interstellar spaceflight. “But the really cool thing is space-time, the fabric of space, is not limited by the speed of light.”

Why building a warp-drive is so hard

warp driveA practical, real-life warp drive was first discussed in scientific terms in 1994 by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre. Subsequent mathematical analysis suggested, however, that propelling a spacecraft through a warp drive would require cosmic amounts of energy. For instance to warp a few atoms, you need the energy of three suns. For a whole spaceship the required amount of energy could not be fathomed by the human mind.

Also, there’s another issue which came to scientific attention a few months ago. In a previous post on ZME Science, I wrote how some researchers at Sydney University studied what would happen, were it possible, when a spacecraft would halt its faster than light propulsion and exit warp-drive. “The University of Sydney scientists did a bit of math on the data which would result from the effects of faster than light space travel via Alcubierre drive and found that the warp bubble would gather cosmic particles during its voyage. Since there isn’t such a thing as empty space, the spacecraft in question would most certainly gather particles in its warp bubble, no matter its trajectory. When the spacecraft would eventually come out of warp-drive, and superluminal speeds, the gathered particles would be released in an energetic outburst. These can be as energetic as the powerful gamma-rays, the researchers claim.”

Why are we still talking about this then? It’s clearly unpractical. Well, that’s not what NASA believes. The agency, not a 17-year-old basement discussion group, believes warp drive is plausible and is very much interested in probing its applicability. At the 100 Year Starship Symposium, NASA researcher Harold White held a presentation where he spoke about warp-drives in very real-life terms. Dr. White and other physicists have found loopholes in some mathematical equations, which according to them mean that the required amount of energy is much less than previously thought.  More specifically, they found if the ring encircling the spacecraft was adjusted into more of a rounded donut, as opposed to a flat ring, then the required amount of energy would be contained in a few thousand pounds of mass – that’s considerably less than let’s say…Jupiter.

Proof of a working warp-drive

At  NASA Eagleworks, Dr. White and colleagues are looking to practically prove the concept of warp-drive by lab experiments. There, the scientists have set-up a mini warp-drive called White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer. “We’re trying to see if we can generate a very tiny instance of this in a tabletop experiment, to try to perturb space-time by one part in 10 million,” White said.

That might not sound like much, but just listen to what Dr. White has to say:

“Although this is just a tiny instance of the phenomena, it will be existence proof for the idea of perturbing space time-a “Chicago pile” moment, as it were. Recall that December of 1942 saw the first demonstration of a controlled nuclear reaction that generated a whopping half watt. This existence proof was followed by the activation of a ~ four megawatt reactor in November of 1943. Existence proof for the practical application of a scientific idea can be a tipping point for technology development.”

Is the warp-drive an outlandish idea? Definitely! But if scientists and mankind wants to reach for stars and travel to distant worlds, well the old fashion rocket boosters aren’t gonna cut it. You need to resort to uncoventional ideas, at least try them out, and Dr. White, a reputable scientist, is on the forefront of viable space travel research.


“If we’re ever going to become a true spacefaring civilization, we’re going to have to think outside the box a little bit, we’re going to have to be a little bit audacious,” Obousy said.



"If you look at the lower right widget, you can see three peaks — I've just waved my hand in front of the Tricorder three times, and it's picking up the heat. The widget auto-scales to the range of the minimum and maximum temperatures found in the recent measurements." Comments Jensen on his project's website. Here captioned is the Tricorder Mark II.

Real-life, working Tricorder developed by Trekkie-scientist and made open source available

Sometime at the beginning of the year I mentioned in post that once stepping into the age of Terahertz electromagnetic waves (T-rays), which can penetrate any molecule and and then interpret it for identification, we will come to know a slew of new, grand applications, from surveillance , to medical, but possibly the most interesting prospect would be the passing of Star Trek’s iconic handheld device, the tricorder, to the realm of reality. It might take a while for a full fledged tricoder to be created, not until T-ray scanner/emitters become reasonable enough, however Dr. Peter Jansen, a PhD graduate of the Cognitive Science Laboratory at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, has come up with the best working tricorder-spin off so far. His handheld device is capable of sensing temperature, pressure, humidity, distances, location, motion and even electromagnetic measurements to test magnetic fields, and is open source available – anyone has access to the device’s plans and can build one at home.

“Star Trek inspired me to be a scientist” said Jansen, who has been formally working on his tricorder prototypes since 2007, but toying with the idea of making a functioning device since he was “a kid in high school.”

"If you look at the lower right widget, you can see three peaks — I've just waved my hand in front of the Tricorder three times, and it's picking up the heat. The widget auto-scales to the range of the minimum and maximum temperatures found in the recent measurements." Comments Jensen on his project's website. Here captioned is the Tricorder Mark II.

"If you look at the lower right widget, you can see three peaks — I've just waved my hand in front of the Tricorder three times, and it's picking up the heat. The widget auto-scales to the range of the minimum and maximum temperatures found in the recent measurements." Comments Jensen on his project's website. Here captioned is the Tricorder Mark II.

Jensen’s tricorder is envisioned by its creator as a simple, yet robust general purpose tool, like a “Swiss Army Knife”, which one could use to measure key parameters in an inspection, measure rooms, map electromagnetic fields and so on depending on the circumstance. Best of all, it’s cheap, made out of easy to order components, and the device’s plans are openly available to the public for free at the www.tricorderproject.org, where participants are invited to share their work.

Jansen has posted schematics and designs of his first and second prototypes, the Mark 1 and Mark 2, for anyone to see and build. Jansen expects to have his latest version, the Mark 4, produced for “about $200.”

“Everything you need to build one is on line” at www.tricorderproject.org, said Jansen.

Interestingly enough, X Prize Foundation recently offered a prize of $10 million to any one who can make a working Tricorder, however Jansen wasn’t aware of the prize and built a device that would suit general science purposes, instead of medical. A working tricorder would have a massive impact in the medical sector – diagnosis within seconds to minutes. The prize hasn’t been awarded yet, and the organizers caution that every device “would have to be measured on its safety and effect, like all other medical technologies.”

If you might believe this particular device isn’t that mind blowing, think about this – Jensen’s tricorder is just one of the many serious, some epoch changing, devices inspired by science fiction. Many of today’s technology was made by people who were inspired by a SciFi concept at the time, or were guided towards studying nature and science by it.


Star Trek Warp Drive

Warp drive of doom – scientists find faster than light travel would end in gamma-ray blast

Faster than light travel is not only an exciting SciFi concept which has spurred the imagination of countless geek generations since the first Star Trek season aired on television, it’s also a necessity if mankind is ever to surpass its condition and truly aim for the stars. Warp-drive technology has been on the forefront of SciFi thinking as far as interplanetary traveling is concerned, and a team of scientists at  University of Sydney, most likely intrigued by such a possibility, sought to see what kind of perils faster than light travel, theoretical as it may be, might arise. Their findings were rather frightening – when coming to a halt from warp travel, the spaceship would simply collapse under a burst of tremendous energy, obliterating its passengers, as well as anything else in its path.

Star Trek Warp Drive

Star Trek warp drive illustration. credit unknown

The researchers used the Alcubierre warp drive theory, on which they based their assumptions.Theorized by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre in 1994, the warp-drive would catapult a spaceship at faster than light speeds by engulfing it in a bubble of negative energy, thus expanding space, and with it time, behind the ship, while at the same time compressing space in front of it.

The University of Sydney scientists did a bit of math on data which would result from the effects of faster than light space travel via Alcubierre drive and found that the warp bubble would gather cosmic particles during its voyage. Since there isn’t such a thing as empty space, the spacecraft in question would most certainly gather particles in its warp bubble, no matter its trajectory. When the spacecraft would eventually come out of warp-drive, and superluminal speeds, the gathered particles would be released in an energetic outburst. These can be as energetic as the powerful gamma-rays, the researchers claim.

“Any people at the destination,” the team’s paper concludes, “would be gamma ray and high energy particle blasted into oblivion due to the extreme blueshifts for [forward] region particles.”

According to the paper the amount of energy released would be directly proportional to the faster than light traveled distance.

“Interestingly, the energy burst released upon arriving at the destination does not have an upper limit,” McMonigal told Universe Today in an email. “You can just keep on traveling for longer and longer distances to increase the energy that will be released as much as you like, one of the odd effects of General Relativity. Unfortunately, even for very short journeys the energy released is so large that you would completely obliterate anything in front of you.”

Oh, well. Way to go science, just ruin all my fantasies, will you. I’m just as disheartened right now like I was when I first learned another group of researchers allegedly proved time travel is impossible. Is that alien technology here yet?

Link to research paper via Universe Today