Star Trek: how do transporters work

I was looking at a thread the other day and it mentioned that in transporting you are reduced to atoms and they are beamed somewhere and reassembled. Thinking about this for a day or two it didn’t make much sense. Atoms have mass, right? So why not just beam a whole person.

A little googling landed me at the Star Trek Wiki. They explained that in transport you are converted to energy - not atoms. Apparent the energy is then reconverted to mass. OK, so how does that work?

I did a search and couldn’t find another thread on this. Also, although I watched ST casually I’m not really a super fan.

It doesn’t. It’s one of those things you have to accept. The actual process of converting mass into energy isn’t impossible, but it would be extremely hot. It’s essentially the process of combining matter with antimatter to get energy. Only about a gram of matter/antimatter is needed to have the same explosive power of the first atomic bomb.

We have to accept that there’s some sort of process indistinguishable from magic that converts matter into what they call “energy” that is relatively cold. Personally, I fanwank that “subspace” gets involved–the same process that lets them disable inertia and travel faster than light. Somehow, subspace significantly reduces the energy requirements.

Nobody knows. Fictional.

FWIW, James Blish, in “Spock Must Die,” one of the earliest Star Trek novels, had Scotty explain, no, it doesn’t convert a person to energy: that’d blow up the ship. Instead, the transporter induces a Dirac Jump.

This sounds like a reference to the tunneling effect of electrons in quantum physics. An electron can suddenly “find itself” outside a boundary. i.e., you have an electron inside a shot glass, and it doesn’t have enough energy to go over the rim…but it can still sometimes find itself outside the glass, if the walls of the glass are thin enough.

This is a real-world, observed effect, and is at the heart of tunnel-effect diodes, which are found in real electronics, today, really.

If electrons can go from point A to point B without actually traversing the space between them, then, with utterly unimaginable technological advances, maybe people can too. Unlikely as heck, but, then, everything in quantum physics is unlikely.

But, alas, at this point in time, the only real answer is: nobody knows. It’s fictional.

It’s sci-fi, and not hard sci-fi, at that. It works because the plot needs it to work, and there’s really not a good scientific explanation for it.

Gene Roddenberry (the creator of Star Trek) created the transporter because it was cheaper, from a SFX standpoint, then using the shuttlecraft (i.e., miniatures effects) every time they needed to go to or from a planet.

“It works just fine, thank you.”

I try not to analyze them and just accept they work. Because they can never work. Reassembling the brain, where all the right memories are in the exact place they need to be-- like who you are, how you feel about anything, etc.-- has got to be impossible.

Handwaving with a sprinkling of technobabble.

You just have to think like a dinosaur.

They make a perfect scan of your body – which is of course impossible due to the uncertainty principle – then disintegrate your body, killing you.

At the same time, somewhere else, they use the info from your scan to create a simulcrum of you that fools everyone (including itself) into thinking you’re not dead.

You personally aren’t transported anywhere. That’s how you can sometimes get multiple copies of the same original person due to transporter malfunction, like that double-Riker episode.

This gives me the idea of a machine that could scale up quantum effects to the macro level. Call it a quantum field bubble or some-such. Put that bubble around a person and then they could tunnel somewhere else, effectively teleporting, or have multiple versions of the person step out of the bubble a-la Schroedinger’s Cat, or maybe the person disperses into a probability cloud (like a vampire polymorphing into fog), etc…

Right. It’s possible to design a transporter without a 100% fatality rate, and in some settings even a Star Trek style transporter could do it (you could do it in Dungeons and Dragons with a Disintegrate and a True Resurrection, since that is a setting where killing someone and then making a new body somewhere else and attaching their soul to it works), but a technology that can produce a doppelganger by accident is not transporting a person, full stop.

The pri nciple of a teleportation device, right from the start in the 19th century, was that it didn’t physically send anything – it only sent information so you could be “re-assembled” at the other end. The original idea was done by analogy with the telephone or, more likely, the 19th century equivalent of the FAX (which actually preceded the telephone). If you could send a picture “by wire”, why not an actual object?

When they were writing about them in the 1940s, as in George O. Smith’s Venus Equilateral series, the teleporters were obviously analog devices using vacuum tubes. But they were basically just scaled-up FAX machines. In one of Smith’s stories the engineers developing the teleporter snd a solid glass cube through. It comes out on the other side as a twisted helix – just the sort of frequency matching problem the old 19th century FAX machines were noted for. They clearly were “scanning” the original, line by line, and reconstituting it (using local materials) line by line at the other end.

By the 1960s and the Star Trek era the transporters were clearly using computers to store the data as it came through – it’s clear from the dialogue. That’s a phenomenal amount of info to be stored – not only the relative position of each and every atom, but also its relative motion. Later on in the life of the franchise some technical advisor realized that the Uncertainty Theorem was going to prevent you from knowing to arbitrary precision both the position and the momentum of every particle, so they hand-waved “Heisenberg Compensators” into existence to fix this (“How do they work?” asked the fans. “Very well, thank you,” answered the advisors.)

When James Blish wrote the second Star Trek novel Spock Must Die! (Mack Reynolds beat him to the first) he has Scotty state that there is no matter-to-energy transformation, that the transporter simply analyzed the quantum state of the object transported. But that’s just his writing – I don’t know if it’s considered Canon.
All of this lets you construct a duplicate item in the receiving end of a teleportation pair, but doesn’t say anything about why there’s still an original in the sender. As Larry Niven asked in his wonderful essay “The Theory and Practice of Teleportation” (reprinted in the collection All the Myriad Ways), “Shouldn’t we shoot the original in the teleporter booth? If we don’t, he hasn’t gone anywhere.” Good point. If your teleporter sending apparatus doesn’t destroy the original in the process of scanning it (kinda like a FAX machine that is also a document shredder), despite what Blish says, then you’ve simply built a Replicator with the receiving booth an awful long way from the sending booth.

Exactly what I came here to post (but without the link – I read that Okuda quote in a book about Star Trek many years ago).

“How does technology work?”
“It works very well!”

I think this is what I recall reading in The Physics of Star Trek (Amazon link) by physicist Lawrence Krauss. The challenge of moving matter or bits.

Actually - I am kinda surprised no one has mentioned that book. I stumbled across it years ago but don’t know the Star Trek fanbase well - this is not a well-known book? I thought Krauss was a well-regarded physicist so this would be reasonably well-regarded in the fandom community. It looks at many of the technologies in Star Trek and discusses the possibilities to pursue them. ISTR ultimately that as we know physics today, a transporter as depicted is a non-starter.

Ha, great, great story!

Incidentally, I quite like the 40k explanation of how transporters work:

First you use a vacuum cleaner to suck up some goblins. Then you use a spinning thing to open a gateway to hell. Then you shove the goblins into hell, and they come out somewhere else. Science!

Which is where the Heisenberg compensators came in. :smiley:

The depiction of the technology has varied, too. There was an episode that purported to show the point of view of someone being transported, and they passed through an intermediate state in which they remained conscious and able to perceive their surroundings, despite having been reduced to atoms or energy or whatever. All they saw was static, except that it turned out that something else was lurking amid the static.

Star Trek transporters don’t destroy you and create a copy on the other side. They didn’t have replicators in TOS, so that would be beyond their capability. I’d say it kills you and then brings you back to life on the other side.

If I cut you in half, top to bottom, and let you wriggle until dead, then carried you across the room, and had a team of surgeons use advanced microsurgery to put you back together and resuscitate you, no one would say that it wasn’t you.

I know the book, but my familiarity with Transporters and possible technology long predates the book.

In fact, it does NOT work “fine”.

First, there’s the whole “good Kirk/evil Kirk” split, the Riker split, the “what we got back didn’t live long…fortunately” scene in ST:TMP, the Tuvix Incident, the poor souls lost in transport that Reg Barclay had to rescue, not to mention mirror universe beaming.

Sometimes I’d rather drive a Pinto in stop-and-go traffic with a full tank of gas than use a transporter.