The only way to conquer space (the final frontier) is using quantum materials.

Star Trek has provoked scientific and philosophical questions since its conception by Gene Roddenberry in the 60s. Similar to other science fiction franchises, tech in the shows and movies inspired real-life innovators, too. But how can we practically create phasers that stun and kill? Spaceships with energy shields? A holodeck?

The answer is quantum materials and technology, but the “how” is the tricky part.

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image of various Star Trek characters for article on 5 Ways Quantum Materials are Making Star Trek Future Possible
Artist Unknown via Star Trek Facebook

Make It So, Number One

Anyone at all familiar with the Star Trek franchise knows that there are intergalactic spaceships involved. That means that there is quantum travel involved, too. It further means that there are other, non-friendly spaceships as you travel, so having solid weapons and defense systems are critical.

Similarly, astronauts need shields, too. That’s item one on this list.

1. Shields Up for Space Travelers

image of Star Trek spaceship shield for article on 5 Ways Quantum Materials are Making Star Trek Future Possible
Ruth Bamford/Ral via CNN

Seeker (formerly DNews – RIP) covered a story in 2015 about a particularly interesting CERN research project. A discovery regarding the large hadron collider may also be relevant when it comes to space travel. Objects–human or otherwise–encounter all kinds of dangerous, non-terrestrial things in space like increased radioactive ions from the sun and other energy fields and forces.

With no atmosphere or electromagnetic field to protect them, human astronauts stand to incur biological damage. A “cancer shield” using superconductors may be a solution. It’s also a clue in developing large shields for intergalactic spaceships.

2. Superconductors: Multi-Use Particles who Can’t Stand the Heat

While using superconductors to form magnetospheres for spaceships is a great plan, it isn’t viable at this time. As many people might know, superconductors are fantastically good at conducting electricity due to the lack of friction against the flow.

image of what a superconductor can do for article on 5 Ways Quantum Materials are Making Star Trek Future Possible
Boaz Almog via Nerdist

Their molecular structures allow for increased conductivity, magnetic field expansion, and, in the future, spaceship shields. But one of the main problems is that many have a cut-off point regarding temperature. Scientists need to find a “room temperature superconductor” before they can make this Star Trek tech a reality.

Not only is crazy stuff like this video possible with superconductors, but so are cloaking mechanisms. As early as 2011, people tinkered successfully with superconductors and magnets to produce “invisibility cloaks”. Using off-the-shelf products like magnetic tape, researcher Fedor Gömöry and others created cylindrical objects that mimic external and uniform magnetic fields.

image of superconductor experiment for article on 5 Ways Quantum Materials are Making Star Trek Future Possible
J. Prat-Camps, C. Navau, and A. Sanchez via Ars Technica

With identical fields on both sides of the object, it is cloaked from a magnetic perspective. This is not unlike cloaking shields in the world of Star Trek. Of course, cloaking devices (most notably Romulan tech specifically) used selective light bending to establish invisibility. Still, this is a step toward stealth tech.

3. Quantum Computers: Next Gen Analytics

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WIRED

We here at Edgy Labs have covered quantum computing before like how Russia is now leading the race and about quantum chips 1000x smaller than competitors. But if you a quick cheat sheet, here’s the skinny: quantum computers are the key to a Star Trek future.

They utilize quantum bits or “qubits” which have the trait of “superposition” or being in more than one place at once. This means that quantum computers offer vastly increased processing. NASA could use quantum computers to crunch through all of the random data bits from space to discover more information about our galaxy.

They also present a huge potential threat to modern day institutions such as cryptocurrency. But most of the applications of quantum computing are positive:

  • Development of autonomous cars
  • Earlier detection of cancer
  • More effective DNA sequencing
  • Safer airplanes (see Lockheed Martin’s D-Wave for an example)

But mapping space isn’t the only thing quantum computing can do that’s Star Trek related.

4. High-Security Data Encryption

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Tumisu | Pixabay

As mentioned earlier, there will be unfriendly spaceships in your travels across the galaxy. So if you are transmitting an important message back to Starfleet about Klingon activity in your area, you might want to encrypt the message. Of course, almost everyone has high-level decryption technology in the Star Trek universe.

Quantum computers could dramatically decrease the chance of an encrypted message being translated by enemy interceptors. While this has present-day applications, quantum computing isn’t quite there yet. As a result of #5, however, quantum encryption is suddenly a great deal more important.

5. Quantum Teleportation

While we won’t be “beaming” people up anytime soon, Chinese scientists did teleport something this summer. Using quantum entanglement, scientists transmitted the quantum state of a photon to orbit. They sent information on a satellite called “Micius” from Tibet via a Long March 2D rocket.  

In fact, they set a new world record for quantum “teleportation” at 870 miles or 1,400 kilometers. This has major implications for communication because quantum communication is entirely secure. Replicating this practical system and expanding results could create a “global-scale quantum internet” (as the team described it).

Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before

image of Captain Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager for article on 5 Ways Quantum Materials Are Making Star Trek Possible
Star Trek: Voyager | CBS via Buzzfeed

Quantum materials like superconductors, quantum computers, and qubits are tiny keyholes into our future. But we still have only cracked the surface of their secrets (much like space itself).

As we move forward into our ever approaching, ever-receding future, the only two constants are uncertainty and curiosity.

So relax tonight with your favorite Star Trek series. Next GenerationThe Original Series, DiscoveryDeep Space Nine, or — my personal favorite — Voyager.

All you Enterprise fans probably should reconsider though. But we can all agree that Wrath of Khan is the best Star Trek movie right? Right?!

Oh wait, you’re right–it was Galaxy Quest.

What other ways could quantum mechanics and quantum technology produce futuristic tech like teleporters and space shields?

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