World Science Festival: The Science of Star Trek

By Eliza Strickland | June 7, 2010 3:54 pm

EnterpriseOn Friday evening, in the midst of the upscale boutiques and trendy cafes of Brooklyn’s DUMBO  neighborhood, a crowd filled the Galapagos Art Space for a sold-out show titled “The Science of Star Trek,” organized as part of the World Science Festival.

The crowd—scarf-wrapped, martini-sipping, not a single costumed fan in sight—was far from what one might expect at a Star Trek themed event (“closeted fans,” remarked one audience member after the show). Nonetheless, the packed space burst into applause as the night’s speakers were introduced: There was Laurence Krauss, a physicist from Arizona State; Seth Shostak, an astronomer with SETI; and Eric Horvitz, a researcher at Microsoft.

Moderating the discussion was the peppy Faith Salie, a regular on public radio but better known to Star Trek fans as the beautiful, genetically enhanced, Serena Douglas on the series spinoff Deep Space Nine.

Salie first steered the speakers into a conversation about whether the star ship Enterprise’s main means of navigating the galaxy—Warp Drive—is physically possible.

“We can’t travel through space at faster than the speed of light,” said Krauss the physicist, “but space can do whatever the heck it wants.” To illustrate his point, Krauss held up an inflated condom and proceeded to pull one end of the giant balloon towards the other in a rather Freudian demonstration of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Space, he continued as he carefully avoided touching the reservoir tip, can be warped to make two points come closer together.

Salie then questioned the panel on whether intelligent aliens— such as Romulans, Klingons and Vulcans—might exist somewhere in the universe. Shostak, the SETI astronomer, was, of course, positive that there was life beyond earth, although he couldn’t say exactly what form it might take. The other two panelists seemed far less certain. The astronomer was vindicated, however, when an audience poll revealed that everyone in the crowd (with the exception of one timid man who raised his hand in protest and then quickly lowered it) believed that intelligent life existed somewhere else in the universe.

But if aliens do exist, probed Salie, will they harm us? “That’s alien sociology,” replied Shostak, “and the data set for alien sociology is sparse.”

— by Daniel Lametti

Related Content:
Discoblog: World Science Festival: Telling Scary Stories of Strangelets
Discoblog: World Science Festival: Listening to Illusions of Sound
Discoblog: World Science Festival: The 4 Ways to Find E.T.
DISCOVER: The Science and the Fiction (the best and worst science in the movies)

Image: Wikipedia

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