Has anyone already invented transparent aluminum?

Metin Tolan: "The Star Trek Physics" wormholes are possible - physically

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Book review / archive | Article from 07/22/2016

By Gerrit Stratmann

A "wormhole" in the science fiction television series "Deep Space Nine". Is physically possible, according to the physicist Metin Tolan. (imago / United Archives)

Replicators, time travel, wormholes - what initially comes across as science fiction in the Star Trek universe, on closer inspection is a glimpse into the future of technology. The physicist Metin Tolan writes in "The Star Trek Physics" everything that is physically possible.

Every trekkie is familiar with transparent aluminum. The material appeared in the fourth film "Back to the Present". There the crew of the "Enterprise" travels back to 1986 to take humpback whales into the future. For the construction of the whale tank, chief engineer Scotty needs a material that is light and yet stable enough to transport the wanted whales. Only "transparent aluminum" was not even invented in 1986. Today, thirty years later, we have made further progress: At the Fraunhofer Institute, transparent ceramics made of aluminum oxide were developed that come very, very close to the properties of the then hypothetical substance. The visions of "Star Trek" are not that far away!

Stealth caps and artificial eyes

And so the idea of ​​checking these technical details for their plausibility and feasibility is not new either. That is exactly what the American physicist Lawrence M. Krauss did in the 1990s. Now, in view of the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, his German colleague, the Dortmund physicist Metin Tolan, is emulating. Tolan, who already analyzed the physics of football and the James Bond films, now devotes his most recent book to beaming, warp drives, wormholes, time travel, replicators, universal translators, cloaks and artificial eyes - and checks all of these for compatibility with the well-known laws of physics.

As an avowed fan of the series, Metin Tolan often exudes unshakable optimism: physically, he concludes, there is basically nothing to prevent most of the invented technologies. The solution to any problems is a matter for the engineers. However, these problems are sometimes so enormous that no one should rush to hope to travel faster than light. For a warp flight, for example, you need "negative energy" and, in purely mathematical terms, an amount of energy that would correspond to that of several solar masses!

A section for "know-it-alls"

Metin Tolan works along individual film scenes, exposing errors in German synchronization, explaining Newtonian mechanics, Kepler's planetary laws or the special theory of relativity. He often offers a generally understandable part and a section for "know-it-alls" in which he derives tangible results with the help of formulas (e.g. the Lorentz transformation or the rocket equation). Naturally, this is not for everyone, but it gives Tolan's assessments their convincing plausibility (and can easily be skipped if necessary).

Spiced with film quotes, pictures, explanatory graphics and footnotes, Metin Tolan has succeeded in creating a clever book that meanders between entertainment and teaching. Its cultural-historical introduction to Star Trek alone is worth reading. With his calculations, which are clearly and extensively commented, the physics professor aims to expand the horizons of readers who are willing to learn. And for everyone else there is still more than enough left to separate science from fiction with the newly gained knowledge.

Metin Tolan: "The Star Trek Physics. Why the Enterprise only weighs 158 kilos and other galactic insights"
Piper Verlag, Munich / Berlin 2016
351 pages, 20.00 euros

More on the subject:

Metin Tolan: "The Star Trek Physics" - Kirk and Spock on an educational mission
(Deutschlandradio Kultur, reading, July 21, 2016)

50th birthday of the series - How Kant and Hegel become pop culture in "Star Trek"
(Deutschlandradio Kultur, Kompressor, July 19, 2016)

Discovery Day - Can we travel to the stars soon? Star Trek and Star Wars put to the test
(Deutschlandradio Kultur, Kakadu, April 8th, 2016)

Star Trek actor - William Shatner turns 85
(Deutschlandradio Kultur, Studio 9, March 22nd, 2016)

Nutrition in Science Fiction - Replicators and Living Lumps of Meat
(Deutschlandradio Kultur, Zeitfragen, 09/29/2015)

To the death of "Mr. Spock" - Vulcans of hearts
(Deutschlandradio Kultur, Aktuell, 02/27/2015)