Star Trek Warp Speed?

To continue with the string theory/movie theme, a commenter just wrote in to tell about some new ideas for using M-theory to create a warp-drive. These are contained in some papers from the past year or two by string theorists Richard Obousy and Gerald Cleaver (see here, here and here). Today, as a tie-in to the release of the new Star Trek movie, Baylor University issued a press release with the title ‘Star Trek’ Warp Speed? Two Baylor Physicists Have a New Idea That Could Make it Happen, which states:

String theory suggests the universe is made up of multiple dimensions. Height, width and length are three dimensions, and time is the fourth dimension. Scientists believe that there are a total of 10 dimensions, with six other dimensions that we can not yet identify. A new theory, called M-theory, takes string theory one step farther and states that the “strings” actually vibrate in an 11-dimensional space. It is this 11th dimension that the Baylor researchers believe could help propel a ship faster than the speed of light.

Interesting to know that there’s a “new” theory called “M-theory”. Maybe it will replace the old one that has been around for 14 years or so. In any case, while the Woody Allen film is not out, the new Star Trek is, and when I go see it tomorrow night, the fact that it is based on solid science will be reassuring.

Update: Sadly, no explanation in the Star Trek movie of how M-theory was used in the design of the warp drives. However, according to EETimes, a Star Trek warp drive is already in the works.

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19 Responses to Star Trek Warp Speed?

  1. Chris Oakley says:

    If you go to it for the science you may be disappointed [how weird that that should be the case for a Star Trek movie]. My favourite in this regard was the young Spock saying that he “estimated that he had a 4.6% [or whatever it was] probability of succeeding” in his mission. See Feynman’s “What do you care what other people think?” for insightful comments on assigning probabilities to the unquantifiable/imponderable. You will also be introduced to “red matter” which looks like tomato ketchup, but is altogether more scary as it turns stars and planets into Black Holes. I can’t remember whether it had the same effect on hot dogs, but to play it safe, if the movie theatre dispenses ketchup from large, glass spheres then don’t order one.

    Nonetheless, the movie is a fine piece of drama and some of the visuals are breathtaking. Well worth the admission price!

  2. Coin says:

    Isn’t the 11th dimension in M-Theory just the dilaton field?

    So they’re saying they can create the effect of an Alcubierre drive by manipulating the dilaton field?

    …Does that even mean anything?

  3. BigG says:

    This is truly an embarassing time for physics. These crap popular articles read like something you’d find in a post-modern studies journal. First of all, you shouldn’t speak about inflation like it is fact. Secondly, the use of terms like “tearing the fabric of space” and “shrinking space-time” are meaningless in this context. Regardless if they have a meaning among professionals, when popular articles use such terms its is simply to give people who know nothing something to do at cocktail parties. Its about promoting your program to the public than truth. There are very few true great thinkers anymore. In a time when physics needs seers it is being dominated by craftspeople.

  4. milkshake says:

    Coin: Isn’t the 11th dimension in M-Theory just the dilaton field?
    Cleaver: [pause] These go to eleven.

  5. LMAO says:

    From the article

    “The Baylor physicists estimate that the amount of energy needed to influence the extra dimensions is equivalent to the entire mass of Jupiter being converted into energy.

    “That is an enormous amount of energy,” Cleaver said. “We are still a very long ways off before we could create something to harness that type of energy.” ”

    I am now convinced that at least some string theorists shouldn’t be allowed to speak in public.

  6. Janne says:

    That red matter sure is mysterious, but I guess Angels & Demons next week will straighten things out for the layman.

  7. Andrei says:

    Red matter? I guess it is a spin on “red mercury.” Remember that super destructive substance the Russians had invented? Which was another red herring. I wonder why in Hollywood psychologys all evil things or villains are either red or green. The green has been explained by some comentators as resulting from a perceived association of the color green with gas swamp, which is suposedly green (I’ve never been to a swamp). The Romulans had green ships so did the Borg. And remember Star Trek Nemesis. That was an ovwerload of green. But what’s with the red? Is it because of the Romans with their capes or the Soviets or perhaps the Nazis. Or because the evil tea sucking British troops had red uniforms back in revolutionary times? For once I’d like to see a b;ue or say orange villain or ship.

  8. Ralph says:

    Cool, does this mean that implementing a working warp drive is a test of string theory, and that if we can’t send people to Alpha Centauri and beyond by next year, then the string people will shut-up and let the LHC work out what reality is like instead?

  9. Chris Oakley says:

    Some script that was cut from the final version:


    You b*****d, Spock! You could have saved my planet! If you had arrived twenty minutes earlier, you could have created a black hole with your Red Matter which would have swallowed up the supernova!


    Let me get this straight – you seriously think that a few drops of tomato ketchup could have prevented a star from exploding. Am I right or am I right?


    That is correct, pointy-eared freak!


    What are you? A Trekkie fan? Believer in String Theory? I suppose that you think Elvis is still alive, having been abducted by anal-probe-inserting aliens?


    Indeed! He is our prisoner! And will be until we find out who killed JFK!

  10. Bubos says:

    Shame on Chris Oakley who should have the brains to know that Star Trek is backed by, and actually starred in, by Stephen Hawking. So it’s factual as Hawking radiation.

    (Hawking wouldn’t have got any Nobel Prize if it was just a stringy type speculation nobody could check, unmeasurably submerged in the intense gamma ray background radiation spectrum of space!!)

  11. Chris Oakley says:

    Hi Bubos,

    1. Stephen Hawking appearing in Star Trek to me signifies that he needs the money/publicity, not that he endorses the “physics”.

    2. Even if he did, I would not care that much. I am afraid that the clip is misleading you in claiming that he ranks with Einstein and Newton as he is not even close. Those who claim to the contrary I think you will find are publicists for his book, not physicists.

  12. Thomas Larsson says:

    “Hawking wouldn’t have got any Nobel Prize” ???

    Maybe it is because I am a non-native English speaker that I have problems parsing this sentence, but it seems to me that you believe that Hawking has got a Nobel.

  13. db says:

    @Thomas Larsson

    I am a native english speaker, and can’t parse it either. It looks like the output of a physics oriented dada engine to me.

  14. Larry says:


    You will be happy to find that you and Lee Smolin have a new soul mate:

    Oswaldo Zapata:

    On Facts in Superstring Theory. A Case Study: The AdS/CFT Correspondence

    Congratulations, the anti-string horde is growing with more and more fine warriors! I’d be interested to know and I suppose other readers as well, what you think.


  15. Austin says:

    Dear Larry, the historical essay you mentioned is actually – decently – pro-string theory.

    There is a whole blog by the same author dedicated to these ideas. I assure you that neither Peter Woit nor Lee Smolin can be found among the 20 authors of the popular and semipopular books about string theory that the author discusses.

  16. Tim says:

    Dear Larry, Austin,

    after skimming the essay I got the impression that the author does not
    make a clear statement if he is pro or con the way the Maldacena conjecture
    “evolved” from a conjecture to a “fact even mentioned in undergraduate courses”.
    His point is that this process did not follow what was common sense
    in Mathematics/Physics in the 20th century (mathematical theorems need proof,
    physical theorems need experimental verification, to be accepted by the scientific community).
    Is this impression correct? Or does the author propose that
    human kind just developed a brand new way to establish scientific truth? 🙂

    P.S.: I think we can forget about this Star Treck thing as public relations gone wild.

  17. Peter Woit says:


    Actually Zapata quotes my book at least a couple times in the first essay. He wrote recently to tell me about his project, and I pointed out to him that one of the quotes was out of context and misleading. I started writing a blog posting about this, will finish it soon. Yes he’s “pro-string theory”, but he does seem to agree with me that hype, propaganda, and public relations are an important part of string theory. But, for him I guess, that’s a good thing…

  18. Tim says:

    Hello Peter,

    I understand that Zapata got his Ph.D. for working on a topic in string theory, so I am not surprised that he is a supporter – but I am quite surprised that he does not seem to have a problem that “hype, propagande” etc. are important parts of string theory. How come? As I said before from his first essay his personal viewpoint did not become clear to me.

  19. PhilG says:

    The FQXi have launched an essay contest on “What’s Ultimately Possible in Physics?” This could take speculation and hype to a whole new level.

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