In which I bow to Wil Wheaton’s superior intellect

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Jan. 27 2008 10:15 PM

In which I bow to Wil Wheaton’s superior intellect

... well, at least when it comes to treknobabble.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  


As Wil mentions in his blog, he totally pwned me in Trek lore. This is somewhat humiliating, but the tale must be told.

It went like this: I blogged about the Trek teaser, aired before Cloverfield. He then emailed me, complaining about turbines on the warp nacelles -- why do you need turbines in space? I decided to be a little snarky, and reply using a string of standard Star Trek tech babble, called treknobabble, which I totally made up on the fly. Here's what I wrote (incidentally, these emails are reproduced with permission):

Now sir, don't make me school you in Treknobabble.
You know better than anyone how the warp nacelles need to control the matter/antimatter intermix ratio, and there *has* to be (duh) some sort of way of separating the flow. Since matter and antimatter have opposite spins and charges, the obvious way to do this is to have strong counterotating magnetic field generators (I'm guessing very-high-temperature superconductors or possibly supercooled neutronium, though that tech is beyond TOS) to deflect the divergent flows. Nano-inlaid microfibers would do it, provided they don't embed them too close together!
I mean, c'mon. Sheesh.

Well. Wil replied, thusly:

Oh, it's ON. You may have "science" on your side, but I have seven years of BS technobabble on mine.


The dilithium crystals separate and manage the flow of matter and antimatter in the engine core, so there's no need for any field generators -- or anything else -- on the warp nacelles.

Oh, I was so lofty, I was so so so going to school him righteously that dilithium crystals channel the warp field directly, and have nothing to do with antimatter. But I needed backup; I am after all an astronomer, arguing with Crusher-by-proxy. So I went to Wikipedia, and looked up dilithium crystal:

When placed in a high frequency electromagnetic field, magnetic eddies are induced in its structure which keep charged particles away from the crystal lattice. This prevents it from reacting with antimatter when so energized, because the antimatter atoms never actually touch it. Therefore, it is used to contain and regulate the annihilation reaction of matter and antimatter in a starship's warp core, which otherwise would explode from the uncontrolled annihilation reaction.

Oh, frak and feldergarb!

I was wrong, and Wil was right.

So I of course, being a gentleman, emailed him right back and politely conceded, saying,


... to which he, being a gentleman himself, said,

I believe the damn kids today would say, "Owned."

YES! \m/

Now, it would be small of me to take advantage of this by, say, posting about it. But I wouldn't do that, because we all know I like Wil, and we both liked Cloverfield for the same reasons (NSFW language there, kiddies), which is cool.

Oh, but I came this close to misspelling "Wil" on purpose.



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