Star Trek has entertained generations of fans, as well as
explored some fascinating scientific theories. From the vivid
imagination of creator Gene Roddenberry came notions of alien
races, matter-energy conversion, and faster than light travel.
The show itself is fiction, yet the technology behind it may
soon be within our reach.
Debuting in 1966, Star Trek placed the human race in a future
where science had significantly elevated our standard of living.
Antimatter-powered spacecraft allowed for speedy interstellar
travel. Replicators supplied people with the food and clothing
they needed to survive, eliminating the unjust economic system
currently in place. Advancements in medicine cured many common
illnesses and allowed physically impaired individuals to overcome
their disabilities by means of synthetic replacements. While
many of us would dismiss this as straightforward sci-fi, scientists
frequently refer to the more credible concepts in their studies.
Star Trek creator
Star Trek has affected many aspects of our lives, many of
which we are not even aware. Electronic ICU units were initially
employed by Dr. "Bones" McCoy for monitoring a patient's
vital signs long before present-day doctors were using them.
Voice-activated computer systems of the 24th century are currently
in development, but are expected to be commonplace within the
next ten years. Even the cell phone, a common tool in our business-oriented
society, had its humble beginnings as a simple prop. The flip-open
communicator from the original series clearly had an influence
on its design. Similarities range from the size and shape of
the units, to their unreliability during severe weather conditions.
Gene Roddenberry was serious when it came to his dream of
the future. One clause in his contract with Paramount stated
that if anyone could genuinely develop the show's devices, the
studio was to support their efforts without demanding royalties.
A major component in the medical division of Star Trek is
that the technology used must be plausible, in that the doctors
themselves must not be likened to gods. They cannot resurrect
the dead or magically replace a limb; there are set limits as
to what can be done based on existing medical data. For this
purpose, consultants were used to ensure the terminology employed
is valid. It is not enough that a story sounds good, it must
have a basis in fact.
Therefore, procedures and techniques displayed on the screen
could some day be accomplished. Instruments for administering
medical compounds directly through the epidermal layer with jets
of air, like the hypospray, already exist. As cloning techniques
are refined, we may yet be able to grow replacement organs from
our own DNA, reducing the risk of rejection. Prototypes for artificial
vision replacement similar to a VISOR are in the works, leading
a new field of research. Bioelectrics study how cybernetic implants
can stimulate nerve cells, and possibly enhance ordinary senses.
Humanity is fascinated with aspects of the microscopic world,
and thus one of the fastest growing fields in scientific research
today is nanotechnology. Development of tiny cell-sized, self-replicating
robots would revolutionize current medical practices. Today's
doctors undertaking delicate procedures can sometimes encounter
obstacles such as blood clots, inaccessibility to an area, and
the risk of further damage. Machines or "nanites" that
operate on a cellular level have the capability to move freely
throughout the blood stream. This enables nanites to reach the
injury and repair damaged tissue without puncturing the skin.
Recently, researchers have taken a bold step toward this goal.
Scientists used DNA strands as building blocks for the first
molecular machine. The strands were manipulated to form a simple
hinge structure that can respond to given commands. Consider
this a momentous breakthrough as DNA is only 4/10000ths the width
of a single human hair.
By far, the most significant advancement of Trek-based technology
to date has been the invention of a working tricorder. The main
function of the TV apparatus is to study environmental data of
an alien world, acting as a mini science lab. Based on the "Next
Generation" blueprint, a team of Canadian scientists constructed
the device for Vital Technologies Corp. (VTC), obtaining global
copyrights for its design. According to co-inventors David Sweetnam
and Tim Richardson, their tricorder is a multi-function tool
that can record and measure electromagnetic radiation, temperature,
barometric pressure, and intensity of the light and colour spectrums.
Designers also equipped it with lights and a sound chip to give
the "feel" of the future. It is interesting to note
that, as the tricorder from Rodenberry's 24th century is "Mark
7", the present one has been designated "Mark 1"
Applications for this instrument are virtually limitless.
VTC is promoting its use in observing science experiments, which
will help eliminate the problem of human error. Talks with Agriculture
Canada are also underway for the device's participation in testing
produce. A tricorder can determine the amount of nitrogen and
chlorophyll present through studying the colour of leaves, ensuring
a healthy crop.
It is an accepted truth in the realm of science that fiction
and fact are not that far apart. Every fresh hypothesis is condemned
as being unorthodox until it can be proven or disproved. The
great author Jules Verne wrote fantastic stories of scientific
advancements considered too far-fetched in the 19th century,
yet his predictions of moving pictures, space travel, and even
air conditioning came true with striking accuracy. Knowing this,
is it not reasonable to assume that humans may one day extend
our presence beyond the farthest star? Professor Stephen Hawking
believes so. As the renowned quantum physicist visited the Star
Trek set for a guest shot, he reportedly viewed the mighty warp
core saying, "I'm working on that".