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Transporters and Replicators Mini-FAQ
TRANSPORTERS AND REPLICATORS MINI-FAQ
Last modified: Tue Jun 13 09:51:52 1995
Maintained by: Joshua Bell <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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* 1. Questions and Answers
* 2. Credits
* 3. References
1. Questions and Answers
"How does the transporter work?"
While there is no absolute canonical answer, we can piece one together
from various clues, that fits nearly everything seen on-screen, and in
the TNG Tech Manual.
We have some evidence of the inner workings of transporters, but not
much. They employ Heisenberg compensators, pattern buffers, phase
transition coils, Biofilters, matter streams, confinement beams, and
matter-energy converters, and phased matter. As for what they do, we
know that you are conscious during transport (STII:WoK, TNG "Realm of
Fear"), but can also be held in stasis (TOS "Day of the Dove", TNG
"Relics"). Further, while in transport, you appear whole to
I hypothesize that the Annular Confinement Beam first locks onto, then
disassembles the subect into phased matter, via the phase transition
coils, causing it to take on a very energy-like state somewhat akin to
plasma, called phased matter. The matter stream is then fed into the
pattern buffer, piped through waveguide conduits to one of the beam
emitters on the hull of the starship, and then relayed to a point on
the ground where the ACB reconstructs the subject.
"Excuse me, Annular Confinement Beam?"
Yes. The ACB is where the phrase "Beam me up, Scotty!" comes from. The
beam serves two purposes: The first is to maintain a "lock" on the
subject, so the transporter knows what to beam out, and what to leave
behind. The second purpose is to do the actual transporting, whilst
keeping the subject in one piece subjectively.
"How does the transporter know what to take and what to leave?"
In TOS "The Enterprise Incident", the ship's scanners are able to
differentiate a Vulcan from all of the Romulans aboard another ship.
They are very sensitive, but also take a great deal of time. In many
episodes, this sensitivity is not used. However, to scan at that level
of resolution would take perhaps far longer than the crew has.
In any case, the ACB generators are able to scan the target subject,
and either using some best-guessing or asking the Transporter Chief,
decide what should be transported with the subject.
As one r.a.st.tech poster put it, "One to beam up, hold the bunny
"So what is this pattern thing?"
The pattern buffer is a cyclotron-like tank (TNG:TM) which holds the
whirling matrix of phased matter in the ACB while the subject is
beamed out and beamed in. In order to keep track of where every part
of the subject is, the computer constructs a pattern to keep track of
what bits of the stream end up where.
An analogy would be the [left->right->left&down]->top pattern a
television electron gun follows to paint a picture on the phosphors of
the screen. The television (we're assuming an old analog no-frills
model) doesn't know and can't possibly store the information needed to
construct a one-hour program, but it has a pattern, and uses a
modulated matter (electron) stream to do it.
In TNG "Lonely Among Us", Picard is recovered from being beamed away
as pure energy. The computer is able to reconstruct Picard by using
the pattern it had stored, working with the phased matter stream that
Picard's energy state itself supplied. Since the pattern was
pre-transport, the reformed Picard had no memories of the excursion.
Similar to this is the transporter ID trace, which is kept for
verification purposes for a long time after transport. This is
probably a highly compressed sample of the pattern, plus the name of
the transportee, logs of the transport cycle, etc. (TNG "Data's Day".)
"So what is a Heisenberg Compensator?"
As Mike Okuda said when asked by Time (28 Nov 1994), "How do the
Heisenberg compensators work ?" "They work just fine, thank you."
In physics, the Heisenberg Principle states that you cannot know both
the position of a subatomic particle and its momentum to a precise
degree. The more you know about one, the less you know can about the
This comes into play when you consider that to know where everything
is coming from and going to, you pretty much have to know near-exactly
where everything is. By the 24th century, evidently, that's no longer
a problem. The Heisenberg Compensators are probably used to keep
everything in the matter stream exactly where it should be.
Note that this doesn't mean that the Heisenberg Compensators tell you
the vital statistics of the particle; they could very well just
compensate for not knowing them and keep the system working just fine,
"How does that Biofilter gadget work?"
The Biofilter is a good clue as to how the transport patterns work.
The filter looks for elements of the pattern which aren't found in
normal beings/equipment, or those of known viruses and bacteria. It
can simply erase those parts of the pattern, and those parts of the
matter stream won't beam back in.
In TNG "Unnatural Selection", Pulaski is restored from an aged state
by the use of the Biofilter. If Pulaski's altered DNA could be tagged
as unwanted, the pattern could be tweaked to restore the DNA (its
pretty much all the same molecules anyway, just shuffle some
base-pairs around). As for her recovering instantly... well, it's a TV
"What is pattern degredation?"
The pattern is probably highly complex. Pattern degredation occurs
because the Annular Confinement Beams aren't perfect, even with the
help of the Heisenberg Compensators. The matter stream comes out of
alignment with the computer's pattern predictions for where things
should be. Obviously, this is a bad thing.
According to the TNG Tech Manual, a subject can be suspended in
transport for up to 420 seconds before the degredation is too severe
to attempt to reform the transportee. They push close to this limit in
"Realm of Fear".
In TNG "Relics", we see that by keeping the transport controller
locked in a diagnostic loop, pattern degredation is kept to a minimum
- even with an old-style transporter, only 0.003% of the pattern was
lost after 75 years in stasis.
In TNG "Realm of Fear", the most extraordinary development is the
reconstruction of the lost crew, and their appearance as the giant
slugs while in transport. I suspect that the phased-matter "bugs"
which reside in the plasma environment act as a natural ACB,
maintaining the pattern of those "lost" in transport. The computer is
able to use the Biofilter to rebuild the patterns and restore the
"Where are you during transport?"
Inside the ACB. TNG "Realm of Fear" shows what it looks like - lots of
blue and silver sparkles. If you mean from an outside observer's point
of view, you're either in one of the pattern buffers, or in transit to
the beaming coordinates. In TOS "The Gamesters of Triskelion", Kirk
and crew are lost during transport. In the technobabble that follows,
Spock and McCoy discuss whether recovering the lost crewmembers from
the transport beam, thought to be zipping away from the Enterprise, is
possible. This means that if the beam was somehow suspended, a smart
computer could reconstruct the pattern and beam you back in. This
might be what happened in TNG "Realm of Fear". If the ACB environment
is similar to a plasma field, the bugs could act as stabilizers. Long
shot, but hey.
"So was Scotty conscious for 75 years?" (TNG "Relics")
Nope, or he would have starved - if your brain is working, your heart
must be pumping blood, and it needs energy from somewhere. There are
three possibilities for how this was accomplished:
1) All transporters have an optional "statis" switch, that locks the
pattern of the subject during transport. In other words, they are
frozen on a quantum level.
2) Old-style transporters, as seen in TOS, always transported the
subject under stasis. From watching the show, we can see the two
stages in a beamout. First, a sparkly pattern appears over the chest
of the subject, and spreads to cover them. They are sometimes seen to
move during this process. Then they start to have these yellow blobs
appear as they fade out. They don't move during this second stage. We
can speculate that there's a stasis field employed for some reason
(technological limitations, safety, etc) during the actual transport
stage with old technology. This style of transporter was present on
the Jenolan ("Relics"), but is now obselete.
3) Putting the transport controller in a diagnostic loop imposes
stasis on the subject, as a byproduct of the process by which
degredation is minimalized.
Choice (3) is the most appealing to me.
"What happens to the air when you beam in or beam out?"
It is likely that during the beam-out process, air simply diffuses
into the space previously occupied by the subject under transport.
This happens slowly enough that there would be no pop, or any other
sound, except perhaps a small hum or tinkling noise, depending on the
dynamics of air interacting with the ACB.
As for beaming in, the ACB lock on the target site probably gives the
air a gentle "shove" out of the way, again with minimal noise. In the
movies, we do see the beam sweep outwards before the subject
"How can you transport without a transporter at the receiving end?"
According to the TNG Tech Manual, the Enterprise hull sports emitter
array pads at various sites on its surface. They utilize "long-range
virtual-focus molecular imaging scanners" to handle remote disassembly
of the subject, and facilitate reassembly. The ACB is tightly focused
onto the target area from the ship. This is limited - in the TNG era,
40,000 km is the safe range for transport.
"So why in TOS episodes/TFS films did they beam from transporter room
to transporter room?"
Intraship transport in the TOS era was not very reliable. (TOS "Day of
the Dove") Likely, when two compatible transport systems were
available, the surface emitters could "interlock", and the pattern
buffers would synchronize. One transport system would handle the
dematerialization, and hand off the ACB to the receiving end for the
rematerialization. This is much safer and likely requires less energy,
and can be used to get around certain environmental difficulties. (TNG
"Realm of Fear")
"What happened at the start of Star Trek: The Motion Picture then, if
it's so safe?"
When the power on the receiving end of the transport failed, the
transport computer on the Enterprise was unable to maintain the
pattern integrity of the matter stream. This is akin to catastrophic
degredation of the pattern. Kirk said "Boost your matter gain, we need
more signal!" - perhaps indicating that the ACB could have been used
to reconstruct the pattern. In any case, the hand-off appeared to have
been nearly complete when the transportees began reforming on the pad.
Since the Enterprise could not handle the transport, the matter stream
was sent back to Starfleet HQ, in the hopes that enough of the pattern
remained in the ACB to reconstruct them at the sending site. It
wasn't, and the subjects died shortly thereafter.
"And why can't Trills be transported?" (TNG "The Host")
Odan said that transport would kill him. However, in DS9 "The
Alternate", Dax is transported by a Federation transporter (aboard the
Runabout), and suffers no ill effects. There are a few possibilities.
The first is that Odan did not wish to reveal that he was a
host/symbiont pair, perhaps because the knowledge would disrupt the
negotiations, lead to suspicion, or because all Trill were keeping
their symbiont nature a secret at the time.
The second is that, not knowing that Trill are a joined species, the
Biofilter might identify the slug part as a parasite and delete the
pattern, killing both the host and the symbiont. If this is true, then
simply by turning off/adjusting the Biofilter, Trills can transport
like anyone else. Surely, once the unique nature of the Trill was
revealed, the all Federation Biofilters would be reprogramed to ignore
The third is that some Trill symbionts would be damaged by the
transport process, and others wouldn't be. This is proposed in the
"Can you transport through subspace?"
In TNG "Data's Day", the use of a subspace carrier wave was mentioned
as the method by which the transporter beam propagates.
In TNG "Bloodlines", Bok has a subspace transporter, a technology
which was researched but later abandoned by the Federation. The range
is at least 300 billion kilometers, and at most several light years
and the subject is put into a state of molecular flux. Doesn't sound
healthy. How is this different than normal transport? Probably just a
deeper level of subspace.
"Why can't you be transported through shields?"
If you could be transported through shields, they'd be pretty lousy
shields. Just transport a bomb or boarding party over.
Benjamin Chee points out:
Just a thought here. Says in the TNG Tech Manual that phasers may be
fired one-way through the ship's own shields due to EM polarization
(whatever that means). If this holds true for other forms of wavicle
energy, then one might be able to transport out one-way through
"But what about the time O'Brien used the shield frequencies..." (TNG
Shields must allow some energy through to allow sensors to operate. To
be safe, these frequencies are cycled, allowing sensor windows. By
knowing the shield cycles, and the right frequencies, it is be
possible to adjust the transporter to work at those few open
frequencies, and slip past the shields.
Of course, if the destination ship detects you trying to beam through,
they can alter the shield frequencies and end the transport suddenly,
with rather messy results.
"What about in TNG "Relics" - they didn't do anything special!"
One would imagine that shields and transporters are one technological
race, as sensors and cloaks are. The "enemy" is always trying to
figure out a way to transport through your shields, and thus you must
always be trying to improve your shields to block this. Hence, any
70-year-old shields, like those on the Jenolan, would be transparent
to modern transporters.
Alternately, Geordi and Scotty knew that the Enterprise would have to
beam them off the ship, and turned off the "transport blocking"
frequencies in the shields.
"How do replicators work?"
Replicators are based on transporter technology. A sample object is
first "scanned" into the memory of a computer. Because even a simple
object takes up an enormous amount of memory, the object is only
resolved at a molecular level, not a quantum level. Further, the data
must be compressed using a lossy algorithm, meaning that small,
undetectable approximations are made to the data. This gives the
computer a pattern to create a duplicate of the original. (TNG TM)
Starships have a small supply of bulk material that is constantly
recycled into needed materials and items. When a request is made at a
replicator terminal, the waveguide conduit system on the ship relays a
small amount of bulk material to the replicator, which uses it to
create the materials called for in the pattern. The object is then
beamed in at the terminal.
"Can replicators transmute elements?"
Yes... sort of. There have been occasions on the show where some
required element cannot be replicated. The Tech Manual talks about
"quantum transformational manipulation", so they can do some quantum
twiddling to get new elements. However, it also says that the energy
costs are high for all forms of replication, and that food, since it's
usually just different arrangements of the same basic things (water,
proteins, lipids), is more practical to replicate from bulk matter
than to store.
In TNG "Night Terrors", when a certain substance is needed, Data says
"We no longer have the power to reproduce complex elements in the
replicator." This is evidence for the above.
"What about gold-pressed latinum?"
See above about energy costs and certain elements. It may be that 24th
century technology can't transmute, say, elements above 140, and that
latinum (in gold-pressed form) is a stable metal somewhere up there.
Or, alternatively, it could take *exactly* the same amount of energy
to replicate as it takes to mine/ manufacture, making it a good
standard for monetary transactions.
Here's what Mike Okuda and Rick Sternbach came up with when confronted
with this question in the book The Making of DS9, c/o Benjamin Chee:
Q: How could it be so valuable if it could be churned out by any
RS: Oh, well, Mike and I have had discussions about things like
this... it might be that, you know, that the particular molecular
structure just doesn't, you know, doesn't - Mike? Why can't you
replicate latinum ?
MO: Uh, it's because - uh, when - uh, it's because the um, the, uh,
uh, the valence system and the molecular structure are, are arranged -
the, uh, the, the, uh, replicator reads certain valence patterns - it
recognizes that, that those are... copyguarded !
Q: Copyguarded ?
RS: Copyguarded! Oh, they're, they're 'nudged', sort of 'nudged
quanta' and if they're -
MO: Hey, we talked about this before.
RS: That's right, that's right. Yes, and if they're, they're polarized
in the, in the X plane, then they're, they're okay. If they're
polarized in the Y-Z plane, then they're bogus.
"What happens to the glasses when they're done with them?"
The empty glasses, plates, etc, are put back in the replicator
terminal (TNG "Timescape"), and returned as raw materials to the bulk
matter store. It would make sense if they were only disassembled on
the molecular level, as the energy needed to reform new glasses would
be much lower than if they were broken down to the atomic level or
"Why don't they use replicators to do instant ship repair?"
For minor repair, it might be feasable, but we rarely see any sort of
repairs actually being done. When Geordi says "30 minutes at least,
Captain", they might be replicating various components and using a
transporter-effected swapout. Recall, however, that the transporters
and replicators use a lot of power. The replicators go offline in
Alert situations, for example. It would be foolish to rely on such a
system to repair the ship in emergencies, but it is doubtless used at
For large scale repair, I think the TNG Tech Manual says it best: "...
if you could make a starship at the touch of a button, you wouldn't
"Can you make two Datas with the transporter?"
No. It is not possible (with 24th century technology, at least) to
replicate something at the quantum level. First, the amount of
information needed to define a living, thinking being at that level of
detail is incredibly large, far surpassing the computer capacity of
any 24th century database. (TNG TM)
Presumably, Data and other Soong-type androids which use positronic
brains have components which function at a quantum, or sub-molecular
level which cannot be easily replicated.
Secondly, there is no way to scan at quantum resolution without
destroying the subject. The transporter ACB need not know the precise
details of every particle being transported - where they are and what
they are doing is enough. Further, attempting to retrieve such
information from the ACB would destroy it.
To duplicate a living being, a hypothetical effect, which I call an
Annular Confinement Beam-Splitter, would be needed. As the ACB was
passed through it, along with a supply of raw phased matter, it would
duplicate the ACB's contents in the raw stream.
"Hey! What about "The Enemy Within" and "Second Chances" ?"
For better or worse, no such device has been intentionally created by
24th century science. However, in TOS "The Enemy Within", Kirk's
duplication may have been caused by some accidental effect which
caused an ACBS to form in the normal transporter mechanism, with
disasterous results. The Encyclopedia says that damage to the the
transporter's ionizer was the cause of the split.
In TNG "Second Chances", the mechanism by which Riker is duplicated is
explained in detail. During transport through severe atmospheric
interference, the transporter chief locked onto Riker's signal with a
second ACB. When it turned out not to be needed, the second signal was
abandoned. The atmospheric interference caused the second ACB to be
reflected back to the planet, and somehow the matter stream was
duplicated, using phased matter from the atmospheric interference
effect to provide the duplicate mass.
"Could surgery be performed with a transporter?"
It all depends on the surgery. For example - could I suspend you in
transport, reform the pattern so that your arm is no longer broken,
your skin is no longer cut, etc? Yes. But in sickbay they already have
machines which do it near-instantly, and don't take the massive
resources of the transporter.
For such things as removing a tumor, you must consider what replaces
the object being transported away. In all likelyhood, a vacuum. Having
a small vacuum appear inside you body is probably more deadly than the
tumor was in the first place.
It has been suggested that you could synchronize two ACBs and beam in
a saline solution in place of the tumor you are transporting out, but
again, why bother? There are already medical devices which probably
use micro-transporter technology to effect the surgery.
"What about the time when... ?"
Star Trek has "broken" the rules of transporters a number of times.
There are very few glaring examples of misuse of the transporter as a
plot device to save the day, but the worst include:
TNG "Rascals" - Picard, Keiko, Guinan and Ro are turned into children
in a freak transporter accident, and later restored. I won't even try.
First off, the biology used in this episode is pure BS. Secondly, if a
quick fix like this can alter the aging process, then by doing it
intentionally, no-one will ever grow old and die again. Amusing
episode, but it gets a thumbs down in the Treknology category.
TNG "Unnatural Selection" - The transporter magically rejuvinates
Pulaski. While the mechanism by which her cure works is relatively
sound, the fact that she recovers instantly is anomalous. (See TNG
"Man of The People" for a similar insta-heal.) Better to just not
TOS "Tomorrow Is Yesterday" - Somehow, the transporter is able to
erase the memories of people by transporting a newer version of
themselves over top of an older version. Talk about saving the day by
TOS "The Enemy Within" - While I can buy the duplication effect, and
maybe even the two disperate personas of the two Kirks, I think the
recombination of the two was pushing the technology a little bit.
"What about souls?"
Heh. Well, if you've already decided that Star Trek transporters and
souls don't get along, then accept that your position has been made
abundantly clear in the past, and don't bother to followup. Souls
aren't precluded by transporters, they just require that somehow,
souls can (1) "tag along" with the physical body through transport,
(2) stay in stasis along with a body, and (3) be duplicated. Since
there isn't (and many maintain, there can't be) any way of analyzing
this hypothetical "soul", it makes little sense to argue about what it
can and cannot do.
"Can you transport while in Warp?"
Yes. According to the TM and "Best of Both Worlds, Part II", if you're
in Warp you can transport as long as you are both at the same Warp
value. The TM says "integral warp value", but in BOBWII they were
chasing the Borg ship at, I believe, warp 9.6 or something similar.
H. Peter Anvin offers:
I think the intent of the phrase "integral warp value" means
anything with the same integer number, i.e. 8 <= warp < 9; so in
BOBWII the big E would only have had to exceed Warp 9 in order to
make this possible. The TM makes it abundantly clear that a
transition occurs at integral warp factors (and we deduce that to be
the reason the warp scale changed between TOS and TNG) so I think it
makes a lot of sense.
Possible. However, doesn't O'Brien say "Matching warp velocities for
transport" or something quite similar? They'd have to be going at
nearly the same velocity already to keep up with the Borg ship, so
matching velocities could only refer to fine tuning.
In TNG "Force of Nature", they transport from a stationary ship while
falling out of warp in an area of massive subspace instability. It
could be that since they aren't actively generating a warp field of
any level they can get away with transport.
"What happened in "The Schizoid Man" ?"
The Enterprise dropped out of warp for a fraction of a second, and
engage the transport system. Troi reported feeling like she was inside
the wall for a moment. It appears that the matter stream falls out of
the ACB before transport is quite complete. Definitely a nasty thing
if things aren't perfect.
John F. Meyer Jr. <email@example.com>
Erik Ebert <firstname.lastname@example.org>
H. Peter Anvin <email@example.com>
Benjamin Chee <firstname.lastname@example.org>
See the Reading List Mini-FAQ for full details on the volumes
mentioned above and below.
More recently presented information is considered to supercede old
information, unless the weight of the evidence supports the original
Greatest faith is placed on aired live-action material (canon) and
documents produced by or quoting the production crews for Star Trek
(quasi-canon), most notably the technical advisors to TNG, DS9 and
VOY: Michael Okuda and Rick Sternbach.
Other materials are not considered reliable sources of information,
and anything gleaned from these is of questionable relevance.
* Star Trek: Voyager [VOY]
* Star Trek: Deep Space Nine [DS9]
* Star Trek: The Next Generation [TNG]
* Star Trek feature films [TFS]
* Classic Star Trek [TOS]
* The Star Trek Encyclopedia: A Reference Guide to the Future
* Star Trek Chronology: The History of the Future (Chron)
* Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual (TM)
Questionable (but useful) materials:
* The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion
- contains some behind-the-scenes notes of interest
* Other episode guides (Compendium, Concordance, etc)
- useful, esp. for spellings and details
* The Making of Star Trek
- contains Roddenberry-approved TOS ship systems info
* Episode scripts
- spellings and fiddly details, except where they say [TECH]
* Trading and playing cards (esp. Skybox)
- technical stuff often prepared by production staff
Material that is ignored (other than where it reproduces material from
the above, e.g. photographs, descriptions, etc.):
* Star Trek: The Animated Series [TAS]
* Mr. Scott's Guide to the Enterprise
* Worlds of the Federation (WoF)
* Star Fleet Technical Manual (SFTM)
* Starlog's Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Journal (TJ)
* Other "reference" guides
* Novels, incl. novelizations of films and episodes
* Blueprints, drawings, photographs, models, etc.
Joshua Sean Bell <email@example.com>
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