Star Trek: Voyager just saw its starship come to life in a fascinating way.
Star Trek: Voyager fans have probably long wanted a chance to see a real-life replica moving starship they could see with their own eyes and maybe even take flight in. Scientists have produced at least one half of that wishlist with a group of physicists creating an actual model of the ship in a laboratory. But don’t expect to hop in this bad boy and hit the warp drive anytime soon. It’s a microscopic model (measured in micrometers) and can only be viewed in the laboratory with the proper equipment.
Is it a surprise that a group of researchers and PhDs would be into replicating the Star Trek: Voyager ship for their own scientific gains? Probably not. Heck, it seems like when an archeologist names a dinosaur after their favorite movie or best friend. Nerds want to have fun on nerd terms plain and simple. Physicists have interests too and in this case, they paid homage to the Trekkies out there with their creation.
The Star Trek: Voyager ship replica is a synthetically-printed microswimmer. To cut through a bunch of the scientific mumbo-jumbo and technical speak that can get a little, um, tough to read, basically, microswimmers are used to propel themselves through liquids. In their natural forms, they may be cilia or flagella (all the classics) but the synthetic ones can help scientists learn about the movements of microscopic organisms like bacteria or blood cells. Once set in liquid they use a variety of ways to self propel, part of what the scientists are studying in the movement.
The synthetic Star Trek: Voyager microswimmer is made with a platinum coating and is being used to test different shapes in the self-propulsion process. Up until now, according to the research paper, these usually took the shape of spheres or orbs. But this group stepped up their game and created a bunch of different versions to test. Besides just the Star Trek hat tip, they also created what they call a “spiky sphere” (looks like a blooming flower), “a spiral”, “a helix”, “a trimer” (looks like three connected balls), and a “3D benchy boat.” The latter looks much like you’d think about from a mid-century fishing vessel.
With Star Trek starting to appeal to a younger fan base, it makes sense that we’d continue to see the show’s influences crop up in a whole host of ways. Sure, did the shape of the original ship also lend itself to a conducive version of the microswimmer the scientists were hoping to test? Probably, but it also speaks to the group having a little fun with the project. This could have just as easily been the Batmobile, Millennium Falcon, or even just a plain old rocket ship. What fun would any of that be? We need Voyager going where no man has gone before.
In the future, microswimmers could be used to help doctors and scientists deliver targeted medicines and antibodies to different parts of the human body. So one day you might be going in for a procedure only to find out that the Star Trek: Voyager was about to enter your system and deliver a medicinal payload to your insides. What a time for a Trekky to be alive!