Science fiction is as the name suggests the fiction of science. I thought it would be a fun, interesting and at times mind bending idea too look at the science behind some of the technology in science fiction and look under the hood to see what’s required to make it work or what barriers are in the way.
Science in Sci-Fi – The Teleporter
One of the most exciting and truly scifi inventions is that of the transporter or sometimes called the teleporter. As many of us a so familiar with the line from Captain Kirk – Beam me up Scotty (which was a line never used in Start Trek but I digress) means that people are beamed from one place to another without having to travel any distance in a vehicle.
The transporter was coined in Star Trek to save program time on captain Kirk and his red shirted buddies getting into and out of smaller spacecraft all the time. This is what I’ve learned recently, I have no idea if it’s true but it’s a nice idea – again I digress though.
How does the Teleporter Work?
Star Trek itself was a bit hazy on this – funny really as it’s not been invented. A person or person(s) are scanned by the teleporter system in order to obtain an exact copy of the human exactly as they are and then transmit them, data and energy to another location and then re-assemble them in the intended place.
When I say scanned – this scan would be of every single atom at that point in time and not when I say the atom I mean the spin and position of every electron, proton etc…
What are the Challenges?
As I said above – this scan would be of every atom and every electron’s position and spin within that person, their clothing and any objects they were carrying on then at that time. So with that let us deal with this data part first – the amount of data that would have to be collected would be utterly astronomical. Even if it could be sent at a decent data rate to the desired location the time it would take to collect the data in today’s technology – well let’s just say it might take a while. By the time you’ve started not only would everything have changed but the subject would have got older.
That’s even if the data could be collected because there’s a little issue of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. What this means is that it is not possible to know the position and spin of an electron at a specific point in time. We can know one or the other – but not both. This is mainly becasue of the nature of atomic particles where – becasue they’re so small and made of energy any observation (like shining a light on them) changes their state.
The next issue is this – energy. The amount of energy in mass is huge, this was quantified by a fairly well known scientist called Albert Einstein. You might be way ahead of me at this point and have worked out that the equation that he derived for energy in mass is:
E = MC2
What this equation means in a nutshell is the energy equals the mass of the matter on Earth is could be said to be how much it weighs (M) multiplied by the square of the speed of light (C). To expand on this the speed of light (C) is 280,000 miles of 300,000 kilometres per second and to square that times it by itself.
Basically it’s big. In short this teleporter has to bean the energy of this person and their kit which is going to be many nuclear explosions worth and then put it all back. Exactly as it was.
What this means in short is that right now the transporter or teleporter is not possible there’s too much data needing to be handled too quickly, too much energy to be handled to quickly and too much uncertainty. It’s the recipe for a human scrambled egg and that really isn’t helpful. It’s best to be like Dr McCoy and shout “There’s no reason to scatter my atoms across space!”
Then leave it at that!
© Simon Farnell 2013 – 2022
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