By Hamish Johnston
My favourite episode of The Simpsons begins with Homer returning to college to retake the course “Nuclear Physics 101”. He manages to get three fellow physics students expelled and they all move into the Simpson home. They proceed to drive Marge crazy with their geeky ways, including tieing up the telephone line by downloading “Top ten reasons why Captain Kirk is better than Captain Picard”.
Funny as it may be, portraying physicists as Trekies is a stereotype that does the physics community no good — which is why someone should have a quiet word with Richard Obousy and Gerald Cleaver at Baylor University, who have posted a paper on the arXiv preprint server called “Putting the ‘Warp’ into Warp Drive“.
The paper describes how to create a “warp bubble”, which would surround a spacecraft and allow it to “effectively travel faster than the speed of light”. Instead of being powered by a cantankerous engineer with a bad Scottish accent, this warp drive harnesses the Casimir effect.
However, Cleaver and Obousy calculate that the total mass/energy contained in the planet Jupiter would be needed to propel a starship the size of the Enterprise to beyond the speed of light.
That’s a lot of dilithium crystals, and the inevitable tabloid headlines like “Physicists want to annihilate Jupiter to reach Rigel 7” will do the physics community no good.
A plea to the physics community — no more Star Trek!
Oh, just to set the record straight — Captain Kirk is light years better than Captain Picard.