Phil Kesten: “Physics of Star Trek” | Talks at Google

Phil Kesten: “Physics of Star Trek” | Talks at Google


SPEAKER 1: Welcome
to Talks at Google. My name is [INAUDIBLE]. Today we’re in for a real treat. I have the distinct privilege
of welcoming my friend and former professor,
Dr. Phil Kesten. Dr. Kesten is the Associate
Professor of Physics and Associate Vice Provost
for Undergraduate Studies at my alma mater,
Santa Clara University. And I’m excited
to welcome him now for the Physics of Star Trek. Thank you, Dr. Kesten. PHIL KESTEN: Thank you. Well, this is the place that
we have to start, I think. This is one version. For those of you that
are somewhat Trek geeks, you’ll know that this is
just one of the versions. The first one said where
no man has gone before. The network decided that was
inappropriate at some point. But really this sets the
tone for “Star Trek.” What we want to focus on
is where they wanted to go or needed to go, how far away,
how fast they needed to go, because that demanded some
science and technology, shoot, that was unheard of when “Star
Trek” started in the mid ’60s. And I don’t know why
this says 2014 there. That’s bad on my
part, because 2016 it’s still weird and
strange and unbelievable. So where will we go today? I’ll spend just a
few minutes talking about “Star Trek,” although I
hope that you know what it is. Talk a little bit about the
technology and the science, the physics of “Star Trek.” I’ll take a brief look around,
spend a little bit more time on holodecks
and on warp drive and then I’ll offer
you some conclusions. But first of all, we
have to say, as you know, “Star Trek” is deeply
embedded in our culture. I think this picture sums it up. Here we see Einstein, Hawking,
Newton, and Data playing poker. It seems perfectly
natural, don’t you think? Deeply embedded in our culture? Absolutely. How many of us have used
some, perhaps all, of these? He’s dead Jim. You know, that’s
one of my favorites. And, of course, I’m a
doctor, not a physicist. Well, I can’t use that one. Let’s take a look
at our old friends. These are all the publicity
shots from the series. Here they are from
the original series. Sadly, so many have left us now. “Star Trek,” a real franchise. Yes. “The Next Generation,”
early into the ’90s. “Deep Space Nine” came
along in the ’90s. We had “Voyager.” And finally “Enterprise.” And lots of movies. In fact, the next
movie you probably didn’t know this–
I’m going to guess– is coming out in two days. Yeah. And there’s a new TV series that
will be coming out in January. You may not know this. This is not germane to the
physics of “Star Trek,” but Paramount sold most of the
rights of “Star Trek” to CBS. And CBS is coming out with
a new TV show in January. But they’re very clever. They’re going to show you the
first one on public television, but all the rest
of the episodes, you’re going to have to
pay for CBS access to see. I’m going to pay. This is just an aside, but I
don’t know what you guys think. I love the reboot. I love the JJ Abrams reboot. And to me, this
just says it all. I mean, come on. Look at these two guys. They’re the same person, right? Old Kirk and new Kirk. Why are we so captivated
by “Star Trek”? Why were we so captivated
in the ’60s by “Star Trek”? In answer, I offer
these two photographs. Where were they taken? California? Asia? Someplace we don’t know? Well, I know the
first one for sure. I took it. I took it in Colorado in
Rocky Mountain National Park up at 12,000 feet. The second picture– well,
I didn’t take that one. That was taken by the
Opportunity Rover on Mars. Yeah? When you think
about it, there are places that are
things that are not on this earth that
are like Earth, and I think that’s
what captivates us. Hey, you know what? On Mars, there was
once water flowing. On your left, a stream on Earth. On the right, what’s
left of a stream on Mars. And you know what? We find the same
kind of conglomerate, these little chunks
of pebbles rounded by water flow stuck together. We find the same thing on
Mars that we find on Earth. Water once flowed on Mars. Oh, wait a second. Water still flows on Mars. This is a picture taken on the
rim of Hale Crater on Mars, and you notice these streaks
that are coming down– these streaks. Well, you might say yeah, OK. I could believe that was water
flowing once upon a time, but these streaks change. In 2015, just last
year, NASA was taking pictures of
this same region, and those streaks
change over time. The temperature
there is warm enough that the frozen ice and
the permafrost melts. Sometimes explosions of steam
come up from the surface. Can you imagine that? And look at this picture. This is Mars at sunset. You could almost imagine
looking out toward the hills, toward the ocean, and seeing
this here in Silicon Valley. So I think this is
why we’re captivated by “Star Trek,” because
we’re tantalized by the fact that there’s a universe out
there which is something we can almost put our fingers on. Now let’s talk about the
science and technology. First of all, you must know
that the creators of “Star Trek” were amazingly prescient. They got so many things right. Here is one of the things
that you may not know. I love this. One of my favorite episodes
of the original series, “Yesterday and Tomorrow,” they
come in contact with something they called a black star. What was it? It was a black hole. Now, shoot, if we
had a movie today and we talked about
black holes, which we do, nobody would say anything. The physicist who coined
the term black hole did it two years after
that episode was made. These guys were
getting a lot right. And it’s not an
exaggeration at all to say that their vision of
the future, in many ways, drove the development of
science and technology that we have today. I’ll show you some examples. Well, there’s Uhura wearing
a Bluetooth headset. And you’ll have to
use your imagination in this big white area. “Star Trek” personnel looking
at a desktop computer. That image I got, it was
of one of the promo images from the original pilot in
which Majel Barrett was playing Number One, second in command,
and it was a very young Leonard Nimoy. Flat panel monitors. We think nothing
of it these days. 1960, oh my gosh. 1965, 1966, TVs were
this big and this deep. And there’s Captain Kirk
walking through a door that opens automatically for him. I don’t know if any
of you ever heard him say this but
Neil deGrasse Tyson, when asked what he found
amazing about “Star Trek” when he was a kid, he said
the thing that amazed him most was the doors that opened
when you walked through them. Jim Kirk using a flip phone. Yeah. I mean, really what
was he thinking? You know? And there’s Riker
working on his tablet. I guess it probably– here it
wouldn’t be an iPad, would it? AUDIENCE: No. PHIL KESTEN: No. Ssh. That’s the technology. What about the science? Turns out, well, first
of all, clearly there’s lots of physics, lots of
science in “Star Trek.” We’ll spend a
little time talking about the different pieces. Is it right? Is it wrong? Good or bad science? For example, mirror universes. What do you think? Is this a fanciful science
fiction or could there really be mirror alternate universes? Turns out, in theory, OK. This is Brian Greene
talking here– Brian Greene from Columbia,
who has become one of the– I think of as one of the
Carl Sagans of today, one of the public faces of physics. And basically what
he says here is, hey, if the universe is
infinite, why wouldn’t we have an infinite number
of ways to combine the infinite number of things
we have in this universe? So mirror universe
is allowed in theory. Oh, tractor beams. Oh, we’ve seen this a
million times in “Star Trek” and also other science
fiction movies and such. You know, the ship needs to grab
a hold of something or somebody or attack a ship, they
send up that tractor beam and they grab hold. Oh, come on. That can’t be right. I mean, how could you
possibly imagine doing that? When I first started to talk
about the physics of “Star Trek,” I said, come on. That’s got to be
just science fiction. Turns out it’s not. In fact, we are using
tractor beams today. OK. You’re not going to go out and
grab a spaceship with a tractor beam today, but with
the equivalent– the optical equivalent,
of a tractor beam, which folks call
either optical tweezers or single-beam gradient traps,
by taking two or more laser beams and focusing
them in a certain way, you can grab hold of
an object– an object how big– maybe on the size of
cells– and move them around. People have also
learned how to do this with focused sound waves. These are called
acoustic tweezers. So check this out. Here are five images of,
in this particular case, it’s called a vesicle. It’s a substructure
withinside an algae cell. Algae cells tend
to be pretty large. And these are five images taken
over the course of 260 seconds. If you look closely, you
can see that– well, it’s a little hard to see, but
there is some structure in the cell that’s not moving. The only thing that’s
moving is this vesicle, and it’s because
it’s been grabbed by one of these optical
tweezers and moved around. People can do this with single
atoms all way up to nanotubes. There are some very cool
pictures out on the web. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get
the permission to use them, so you’ll have to go
search the web for them. AUDIENCE: There’s this tool
called Google that you can use. PHIL KESTEN: Oh, cool. I’ve got to learn about that. Yeah. AUDIENCE: “Star Trek.” PHIL KESTEN: Yeah. Worm holes. Real physics? Goofy. Which? AUDIENCE: Well, there
are some special cases. PHIL KESTEN: Special cases? So you’re saying it’s OK? Maybe wormholes? Yeah? Yeah. Turns out, in theory, there’s
nothing wrong with wormholes. We don’t know how
to make them yet. We haven’t seen any yet. But the theory allows for them. What are they? There kind of like short
cuts through space time. So I could get from here to
here without going through all the stuff in between. This requires a
higher dimension. The way I like to think of it
is this– the earth– well, let me ask you. How many dimensions
do we live in? How many dimensions is this? AUDIENCE: Four. PHIL KESTEN: No,
you’re all wrong. It’s two. Come on. It’s two. I mean, I rarely go up and down. I mean, once in a
while, but right? And so for example, if you want
to fly from here to Athens, you get on your plane or
maybe you go up a little bit, but basically you go
in a curved plane. Only when you realize that the
Earth is three dimensional do you think hey, you know what? I could drill a tunnel
from here to Athens. It would be a lot
faster, a lot straighter, but I need that higher
dimension to do that. And this is what
wormholes will allow us to do if we can access
that higher dimension. We’ll talk about the higher
dimensions in just a bit. So wormholes? OK. Time travel. That’s got to be science
fiction, don’t you think? Anybody going with me on
the ride for time travel? Can’t possibly be
good science, right? AUDIENCE: We can go forward. We are all time
traveling right now. PHIL KESTEN: Well, this in
fact is– this is what I say. Only one speed. One second per second, right? That’s it. AUDIENCE: With some variance. PHIL KESTEN: Well, yeah,
except here’s the thing. And Einstein understood this
more than 100 years ago. Because the speed of light
is absolute– by that I mean if I run alongside
of a light beam, the light beam is still
moving at the speed of light with respect to
me, even if I’m going fast. Because the speed of
light is absolute, clocks in relative
motion to each other run at different rates. So if I’ve got a clock in
my hand and somebody else, oh, Captain Kirk is
on the Enterprise, and he zooms past
the Earth, I look up, I see his clock as running
slow compared to mine. So clocks in relative motion
run at different rates. So if we can build a
wormhole and have the two ends of the wormhole
move at different rates, time will run at different
rates at the two ends. And therefore by going
through the wormhole, you could travel to
a different time. I should say this
is not theoretical. We know this is true. Einstein’s theory was proven
experimentally back in 1941. All of you use this
physics probably every day of your lives, because
every one of you has a smartphone
that has a GPS on it. True or false? It’s got to be true, right? So we’re all used to this now. I used to be great at
remembering maps and things. Now, if I don’t have my
phone in front of me, I don’t know how to get home. We all use this. Well that GPS system
would crash and burn without making corrections
for relativistic effects, because all of the clocks
and all of the GPS satellites are moving relative to us. So how do we make
this time machine? I’ve just drawn here
two places in space. It makes it seem like space
has somehow been folded, but that’s just for the picture. It could be a flat space,
but I’ve made a wormhole, and I’m making the two
ends of the wormhole move relative to each other. And that means,
as I say, time is running at different
rates between the two ends and therefore if you go in one
side and come out the other, you come out at
a different time. This was first
described by Kip Thorne. Some of you may know his name. He was the science guy
behind Interstellar, Caltech physicist. So time machine? Could be. Ah, now here’s a favorite bit of
physics– the inertial dampers. I mean, look. Time machines and wormholes,
that’s like crazy stuff, but inertial
dampers, all they do is make sure that
you don’t like get smacked against the wall
when you take a hard turn. Here you could see they’re
banking into the turn here. Surely we must be able
to make inertial dampers. What do you think? AUDIENCE: Inertia is
a property of matter. PHIL KESTEN: You think? So you’re saying no,
it’s not possible? This guy’s on top of it,
because you know what? You can’t make inertial dampers. There are certain laws of
physics you can’t beat. Here’s what Newton said. You might remember this
if you’ve taken physics in high school or college. Newton said that that
force and acceleration are related to each other. What kind of acceleration
do we typically experience? On the surface of the Earth,
we call that acceleration 1 G. Doesn’t really
matter what it is– 9.8 meters per second
squared, but it’s 1 G. Stand, sit in
Earth’s gravity, and that’s what you’re feeling. If you’re on an
airplane taking off, you might experience
perhaps 0.2 G, although it’s in the horizontal
direction and not the vertical. The guys who are taking off in
things like the space shuttle, they might experience 3 G.
The largest acceleration ever experienced by a human
being who lived was 46 G. Again, I encourage you
to use that Google thing and look up the video of this
guy in that first test of 46 G. Unbelievable. He lived, but he was really
not a very happy guy. But you know what? If you’re going to do
anything on a starship, you’re going to experience
way more than 46 G, and there’s nothing that
you can do to stop it. That’s just the universe. Is that a question or let’s go. AUDIENCE: What if
you could stop matter from interacting
with Higgs field? PHIL KESTEN: What if you
could stop matter from– AUDIENCE: Interacting
with the Higgs field? PHIL KESTEN: Yikes. OK. But I would say you can’t. In “Star Trek” science
fiction you might, but not in the real world. And that’s the thing,
and I’ve got to tell you. So I teach this physics,
and a lot of it’s fun. But I always say if
it’s not real physics, it’s just somebody’s goofy idea. You’ve got to stick
with the universe, and the universe
is just not going to let you get away from this. So if you’re going to do any
kind of big accelerations, you’re going to be a pancake. I have to show you
this little slide, because this talk is about all
sorts of fantasmic science, which is real. So we have to at least
keep ourselves grounded and look at one piece of “Star
Trek” physics which can’t work. All right. Holodecks. Holodecks were invented for the
second round of “Star Trek.” They didn’t have
them originally, but the creators of
“Star Trek” needed more potential storylines. So what was the holodeck? The holodeck was a room. It looks like this
when you don’t have any programs running. It’s just an empty
place, but what can you do with the holo emitters? You can project whatever scene
you want and not just visually, but you can interact with it. So if you project a
chair, you can sit in it. If you project someone with
a sword, you can fight him. Of course, you have to make
sure the interlocks are on so that you can’t
actually be hurt. Another great set
of story lines. Can we make a holodeck? Could we even imagine it? Oh, yes. Holograms, yes, no problem. We’ve been making and
displaying holograms now for almost 60 years. What is a hologram? A hologram is a recording
of the light waves which bounce off an object. You’re seeing me right
now because there are light waves bouncing off
of me and going to your eyes. Now, these are
waves, and that means that if you hold your
hand up like this and you move it around while
you’re looking through a window you get different views. If you move your
head back and forth, you see different alignments,
things front and back, in front of and
behind each other. And that’s what you
get with a hologram, because it’s recording not
the light intensity like you get with a photograph but
the light waves themselves. Now, if you want to make a
full what’s called transmission hologram, you not only
need a laser to make it, but you need a laser to
reconstruct it, to display it. So here is an image– this
is from a museum in France– of someone holding a
transmission hologram which has been imprinted
on this cylinder, this transparent cylinder,
being reconstructed with a laser beam. And you hold that in your
hand, then you move around, you see this woman. You see behind her, you see
her in different perspective, because what you’re doing is
reconstructing the light waves that were originally recorded. Not a whole lot of us
have a laser around to reconstruct a hologram. Not only that,
but you have to be in a very specific position
with respect to the laser and the hologram to see it. Well, that doesn’t work well
for the kind of applications we typically want to have. So people usually make what’s
called a reflection hologram. That kind of hologram can be
reconstructed with white light. It just doesn’t give you
a very big depth of field. Some of you may have
a reflection hologram like say on your credit card. You may have seen– they’re
shiny little things, and if you tilt your card,
you can see just a little bit of perspective. So easy to reconstruct,
but you’re not going to believe that this
is a real world, right? It’s not going to look
like the holodeck. But at least we
can make holograms. But, OK, let’s say we could
make a great hologram, how do you make a
hologram have substance? AUDIENCE: How do you do it
without killing everyone in the hologram? PHIL KESTEN: Oh, you don’t have
to use a high-powered laser. You don’t have to use
a high-wattage laser. Yeah. And you spread the light out. But even if we
could– like I say, even if we could conquer
this problem of being able to reproduce
a very large scene and being able to see
it from different angles so that you could
actually be in a room and see the whole world around
you projected from a hologram, how could we possibly give
it– that can’t be, right? I mean, holograms,
it’s just light. Turns out, you can give
holograms substance. A lot of people are
working on this. The people, probably
the most advanced, is this group in Japan. They are working
on something called a Visuo-Tactile Projector
to project a hologram. And then they used
focused ultrasound waves to give tactile response. So you can project
holograms of raindrops and stick your hand
underneath and feel them hitting your palm. You can play a
holographic piano. It’s a projection of a keyboard. There’s no substance
there, but you can feel it and play the keys. And now here is our true
test of Google technology. Can I show you this video? What do you think? Is it going to work? Oh, it could work. This is from this
group in Japan. The first part’s
uninteresting, but it just shows you their setup. And here is a holographic
gecko, and this guy can feel it on his arm. But this is the best part. This is a holographic
gecko that’s running through
a dish of liquid. Look at this. Watch this. Oh, my gosh. Is that incredible? So holodecks may
be in our future. But let’s face it, all that
other stuff is just for fun. What’s the real deal? Warp drive. Right? Why warp drive? Because warp drive
is what lets us get someplace far away in a
reasonable amount of time. And shoot, if we can’t do that,
all the rest of “Star Trek” falls apart. Now you may, if you’re not
familiar with this physics– the “Star Trek” physics–
you may at some point have asked yourself– if you
know about relativity– you say, well, I know I can’t go
faster than the speed of light. Einstein said that. So what could possibly
get me someplace far away in a short period of time? What could possibly let me go
faster than the speed of light? And this is a spoiler alert. Nothing. You can’t go faster
than the speed of light. But we want to go visit Spock. He’s on Vulcan. Vulcan is very far away–
16 and 1/2 light years. That’s around 100,000
billion miles. Vulcan is a fictitious planet,
although it orbits a real star. That star is 40 Eridani A.
It was discovered by William Herschel in the late 1700s. Gene Roddenberry endorsed it
as the home star of Vulcan in the early ’90s. It takes a long time for a light
to get from Earth to Vulcan. So it would take us
a really long time. Although I do have
to ask the question, is Vulcan near or far? And I have to say,
you know what? Vulcan actually is pretty near
us on the scale of things. You look up in the sky in the
winter, and you see Orion. Many of you, I’m
sure, have seen Orion in the sky– his famous belt
and his dagger, shooting a bow. If you’re on Vulcan, you
could look up into the sky and see Orion, the
exact same Orion. The stars look the
same in the Vulcan sky. So Vulcan isn’t that far away. It’s kind of near. Oh well, it is far,
because you know what? The fastest humans
have been able to go is about 37,000 miles an hour. That’s Voyager 1. We launched Voyager
1 in the late ’70s. It’s now 12 billion
miles or so from Earth. So in those many years, it’s
gone that– yeah, go ahead. AUDIENCE: Isn’t Voyager
still accelerating? I thought it had a
low power– Isn’t Voyager still accelerating? I thought it had a low
powered ion drive [INAUDIBLE]? PHIL KESTEN: No. It has no real source of power. Yeah. It is still broadcasting though. It gets a little bit
of light from the sun, but it’s distance– so
that number is in miles. The way I think
of it is in what’s called astronomical units. One astronomical
unit is Earth to Sun. Voyager is 134 times
farther from the Sun than Earth is right now. So it’s outside the limits
of the solar system, and it’s taken since
1977 to get that far. At that speed, it would take
300,000 years to get to Vulcan. Kind of bad if we want
to go visit Spock. We need a warp drive,
but what are the rules? The rules are this– you cannot
exceed the speed of light, even on Star Trek. You just can’t. You actually don’t even want to
go close to the speed of light, because if you did it,
your clock would not run at the same rate at
the clocks back home. You go to Vulcan, you come
back, everybody you know dead. Dust. That’s how much of a
difference the time would be. Well, that’s really not a
very good way to do things. Certainly not for a
“Star Trek” episode. Here’s what you have to do. You have to bend a space, or to
use the “Star Trek” language, you have to warp space. Here’s the way I
like to imagine it. Imagine, you know those
balloons that the clowns make like animals out of? Right? And if you squeeze the
balloon, imagine that space is like one of these balloons. And here’s Earth
where we’re starting. That’s our ship. We want to go to Vulcan. We squeeze the balloon,
it pushes the balloon out behind us, squeezes it
in front of us and hey, suddenly Vulcan is closer
and Earth is farther away. If you want to
achieve warp travel, you have to squeeze
space in front of you, stretch it out behind you. So here’s a ship. Look at space in front of it. It’s all nice and
evenly spaced, but if we can squeeze the space in front
and stretch it out behind, maybe do it even
more aggressively, suddenly we are
where we want to be. You don’t have to
go fast to do it. Shoot, you could walk to Vulcan. So you don’t go faster,
you just get closer. This is the trick of warp drive. Does not involve
the speed of light. Oh, but really, come on. Can you really bend space? We would certainly need
a fourth dimension, because if we have
three-dimensional space, and you want to bend it,
you need a fourth dimension to bend it into. Is that possible? How would we even know
if it were possible? Look around the world. I don’t see four dimensions. I do see four dimensions. Here’s how I know. I look for light rays
that are cheating. See, light rays
have to go straight. If you find a light ray
that’s not going straight, it knew something about
the fourth dimension that we might not know. Einstein actually
proposed this just after the turn of the
century– the last century. He said massive objects
must bend space time. To do that, there has
to be a fourth dimension to bend space time into. Here’s how we would
see it, he says. Imagine a big massive object
that could bend space time and far, far beyond it is
an object, say, a star. We can’t see the star because
the light from the star gets blocked by this big object. Of course, light from the stars
is going out in all directions, including this direction. But light from this direction,
if it gets caught up by the bending of space, might
end up coming back toward Earth anyway. Now, we don’t know that. We just look out and see
light coming toward us. So we say, well, where is
that light coming from? We trace a straight
line back, and we say the star is out here. Except some of the
light from the star could have come in another
direction and bent back to us. Gosh, we see two or three
or four or multiple images. This is what Einstein proposed. It was experimentally
verified in 1919 by looking at stars close to the
sun during a solar eclipse when you could see those stars
that were so close to the sun and you could see that
their path was being bent by the curvature of space. They’re called either Einstein
Rings or Einstein Crosses. Here’s an example of
an Einstein Cross. These four objects
are the same star. That star is directly
behind this massive quasar. Yeah. AUDIENCE: Why are
there only four? PHIL KESTEN: Who said that? Why are there only four? Well, let me show
you this picture. Then I’ll answer your question. This is also one star
directly behind that guy. So now you might say, well, why
are there an infinite number? And the answer is,
it’s just geometry. The two things are
not exactly lined up, and depending on quite
how the alignment is determines where exactly
you get the images. If it’s like perfect alignment,
you get a beautiful circle. If it’s close, you get an
almost beautiful circle. And if it’s off
a little bit, you get dots– sometimes
two, three, mostly four. So what do these Einstein Rings
and Einstein Crosses tell us? They tell us that space can be
warped into four dimensions. Can we make warp drive? Well, the first paper on warp
drive was published in 1994. Miguel Alcubierre. He’s a physicist at the
University of Mexico. He published this first paper
in “The Classical and Quantum Gravity Journal” which, if you
go pick up a copy sometime, like for me anyway,
I look at it. I can understand the titles
typically of the papers. That’s it. This is part of the abstract. I reproduced it because
in his abstract, he uses this phrase– warp
drive of science fiction. And this is the best part. When he was interviewed
a few years later and asked why he originally
thought about investigating this, he said I was
watching “Star Trek,” and I thought there must
be a way to do this right. A lot of papers
have been written on the subject since then. There are physicists who
call warp drive Alcubierre drive because of his work. The invention of warp drive. On the left, Zefram Cochrane
demonstrated warp drive in April of 2063. I’m sure many of you
saw the documentary. “Star Trek, First Contact.” And on the right, there he is. That’s Miguel Alcubierre. Now, can we do it? First of all, it takes a
heck of a lot of power. So much power that the only
way to generate that much power is through
matter-antimatter reactions. Now, we do make antimatter right
up the street at the Stanford Linear Accelerator. Not only do we make it,
but it’s being made for us. There’s some antimatter
in you right now, particularly if you eat
salt or oranges or bananas. All those have a
lot of potassium. Salt substitute,
lots of potassium. About one in every
10,000 potassium atoms is radioactive potassium 40. About once every
10,000 times that radioactive potassium decays, it
creates an antimatter electron. So for example, the
potassium in a banana, you get maybe one antimatter
electron every couple hours. The potassium that
you have in your body, it’s probably about
200 grams, you get maybe 100 antimatter
electrons an hour being made in your body. And as you know from watching
“Star Trek,” as Scotty was always freaking out about
the matter-antimatter engines overloading, you know,
and those antimatter electrons being
created in your body, as soon as they
encounter an electron, they annihilate– explosion. Well, tiny little explosions. So nothing to worry about. OK. So we do make antimatter. At SLAC they make it about 0.1
trillion antimatter electrons per year. Sounds like a lot. Well, if you consider
the fact that it takes 3 trillion electron
antimatter electron collisions just to
light a flashlight, probably we don’t have
enough antimatter just yet to make warp drive. So it’s possible in theory. You squeeze space in front of
you, stretch it out behind you. You don’t have to go fast,
but you end up far away. You can go someplace far away. Takes a lot of power. AUDIENCE: I have a question. PHIL KESTEN: Please. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]
you’re not moving, is the inertia an issue? The lack of [INAUDIBLE]? PHIL KESTEN: Oh. Under warp drive, you
could be going very slowly. Now, if you’ve been
attacked by the Romulans, and you’re making a hard
bank to get away from them, then you’re getting
squished like a pancake. But you’re right. If you’re not accelerating
rapidly, then yeah, you don’t have to
worry about that. So my summary, the
physics of “Star Trek.” Mirror universes? Hey, maybe. Tractor beams? We’re already doing it. Wormholes? Theoretically possible. Time travel? Theoretically possible. Inertial dampers? Seems like the
simplest piece of this. No. Holodecks? Sort of. Warp drive? In theory. I think this is a great start–
great start to the future– and I leave you with this. Dif-tor heh smusma! Live long and prosper. And if you take only one
thing away from this talk, take away that last line,
because there in fact is a proper response to
live long and prosper. It is peace and long life. [INAUDIBLE] Thanks very much. [APPLAUSE] AUDIENCE: A couple decades
ago, Lawrence Krauss had a similarly titled
book where you sort of inspire– it was using the same
title– The Physics of Star Trek. PHIL KESTEN: I teach a
course at Santa Clara called The Physics of Star
Trek, and his book is the required text for my class. If you have not looked–
you read the book? AUDIENCE: I’ve
looked at it, yeah. PHIL KESTEN: If you
have not read this book, you have to go buy it. First of all, it’s small. And it’s like this thick
and every page is fun. So you have to buy this book. It’s fantastic. AUDIENCE: Subspace
communication is similar problem to warp drive,
and is that possibly an easier problem? PHIL KESTEN: So I’m fascinated
by the idea of subspace. You would think that
subspace is, again, just a sort of a staple
of science fiction. But I think of subspace this
way– this is my own idea. I haven’t read this anywhere. But if we consider space
to be four dimensional, we live in a
three-dimensional space, so we clearly are living in
a three-dimensional slice of four-space. But there are other
three-dimensional slices besides ours if there
are four dimensions. And so one could
imagine that we could use one of those other
three-dimensional slices for, say,
communication subspace. So actually I think that
subspace communication is not out of the question. Yeah. AUDIENCE: So what
about those food replicators in “Star Trek”? PHIL KESTEN: Yeah. AUDIENCE: You know,
tea, Earl Grey, hot. PHIL KESTEN: So I did not
talk about replica– well, replicators are really a low-res
form of transporter beams. And I chose not to
address them, but let me just say a couple things. First of all, physicists have
been operating transporter beams since the late 1990s. Not quite the “Star
Trek” transporter beams, but transporter
beams nevertheless. However, if you sit
down and ask yourself how much data is required
to record and move– well, certainly if you want to
get in the transporter beam and I’ll pop out in Paris
for lunch kind of thing, the amount of data
required for a person would require– if you stored
all that data on stick drives– and by the way, you know you can
get like a terabyte stick drive now, right? It would take covering the
entire surface of the earth, water and land, 4 meters
deep in terabyte stick drives to record one person. So how much data would you
need to do your Earl Grey tea? Not that much, but still a lot. It’s a hard problem from
the data perspective. AUDIENCE: So what you’re saying
is we need better compression algorithms. PHIL KESTEN: Yeah,
I don’t– well, OK. You might do that
for Earl Grey tea. I don’t think I want you
to compress me though. I don’t want any
loss of resolution. AUDIENCE: So I think
Dr. Harold White at NASA is working on trying to
use energy to bend space. Are you at all familiar with
the experiments that he’s doing? PHIL KESTEN: I am not. AUDIENCE: OK. PHIL KESTEN: But I guess sort of
taking it on face value, energy and mass are the same. As Einstein told us,
E equals mc squared. So I have no problem
imagining that you could use energy in the same
way as mass to curve space. AUDIENCE: OK. And additionally, so a
problem with space travel today is that planets
travel at different speeds. So even if you can get there,
like with the Pluto fly-by that we did last year,
even if you can get there, you have to slow down
after you get there. Is that still a problem
with warp drive? PHIL KESTEN: No. No, it’s not. Because, again, in warp drive,
you are not really moving. You don’t have to move at
all if you didn’t want to, because you’re squeezing space
as opposed to traveling fast. AUDIENCE: OK. PHIL KESTEN: So acceleration
is not required for warp drive. AUDIENCE: Yeah, I
was speaking more about the difference in velocity
between different planets, which I imagine between
different star systems would be greater. PHIL KESTEN: Yeah, and
drop it out of warp has always been something that
they kind of hand-wave around. I would say sort of
on the surface, no. Since you’re not
accelerating, you can just drop out and
match whatever speed you want to match, the
planet or whatever. AUDIENCE: OK. AUDIENCE: How fast
could you bend space? Seems like if you
couldn’t bend it fast, it’s not a real useful idea. PHIL KESTEN: Bend
it a lot you mean? AUDIENCE: No. How fast could you bend it? PHIL KESTEN: Oh, how
long does it take? AUDIENCE: So you were
saying, oh, look. I could bend space. I can make these two
things appear closer, but how fast could you do it? PHIL KESTEN: Oh. Well, if you look at
the Alcubierre’s paper, so what he’s talking
about, and this is what people think is the
right approach for warp drive, is to bend space only within a
local bubble around your ship or whatever you want to call it. So you’re not bending space all
the way from here to Vulcan, you’re just bending
space locally around you, which is
a very fast process, assuming you have
the energy to do it. And it takes some funky
energy, I have to say. It’s not just a lot
of energy, it also takes negative energy,
which is kind of funky. But physicists have
created negative energy. So we know that that’s possible. Again, not on the scale that
you need for warp drive, but we have done it. But, yeah, you don’t have to
do it over long distances, so it’s not a
time-consuming process. OK? AUDIENCE: Can you
speculate what could be the physics of alternating
the frequency of the shield to Borg attacks? PHIL KESTEN: Oh, shields? Well, energy can be focused. I mean, we do this. I showed you the optical
tweezers, for example. So you could imagine
focusing some form of energy. After all, acoustic
waves are energy, although they don’t travel
through space, but light. I think the kind
of shields that we see in “Star Trek,” the
thing that surrounds the ship, probably unlikely. But a defense shield where
you focus energy on something that’s coming towards you,
that’s not at all unreasonable. And the amount of
energy that you need is actually well within
the range of something we could even do today. AUDIENCE: Those who do Star
Wars models shoot lasers at it. Not “Star Wars” the movie,
Star Wars the– yeah, right. Yeah. We talk a lot about
that Star Wars model. Interesting physics. Very, very difficult
to make real, but yeah. AUDIENCE: OK. Thank you, Dr. Kesten. PHIL KESTEN: Yeah. [APPLAUSE]

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Comments

  1. Didn't watch the original series when it first aired, had to work that night, at a supermarket whose entry/exit doors opened as you approached them.

  2. "Where no man has gone before" is kind of limited in scope. I mean, it seems we'd want to go where no man, woman, dog, or Klingon has gone before.

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