Physics students at the University of Leicester have boldly gone where no student has gone before – by calculating one way to potentially build photon torpedoes seen in the Star Trek universe.
Announced to coincide with the release of Star Trek: Beyond, which opens in UK and US cinemas on 22 July, the students’ findings suggest that in order to function correctly, a photon torpedo could be made out of heavy metals such as lead or uranium, as metals with fewer protons would not have the necessary cascade length.
In this article, we investigate the theoretical viability of the photon torpedoes used in television series Star Trek. We use the working principle of an electromagnetic cascade as a source of matter/antimatter annihilation energy. We calculate the radiation length for the cascade in reference to the payload deliverable by the weapon in the series to infer the material vector for the weapon. The resulting radiation length is 60cm, corresponding to Z > 100, i.e. heavier transition metals, such as lead.