It's the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and in those many years, the franchise has made use of some impressive technology. However, what Star Trek once introduced as science fiction has steadily over the years become just simply science. We now have spacecrafts, desktop computers, and cell phones, which are concepts Star Trek flirted with way back in the sixties. We're still trying to figure out how to teleport, but another iconic piece of Star Trek tech may soon become a reality, as a scientist over at Lockheed Martin is working on bringing the Star Trek phaser to life.
Used by members of Starfleet like Captain Kirk, the compact weapon can be set to "stun" for peaceful takedowns or to "kill" when you want the opposite of peace, and one scientist is hard at work bringing it into the real world. Dr. Rob Afzal, a senior fellow at Lockheed Martin, is a laser scientist and Trek fan - a combination that seems to be serving him well - and in a piece for the Smithsonian Channel, Afzal demonstrates that he is developing a real handheld device that would be able to work like a phaser and have defense applications in the modern world.
Afzal's end goal is to make a compact firing device, but there is one major obstacle: power. Right now, there simply isn't a way to make a generator small enough and powerful enough to match the phaser from Star Trek. Through experimentation and research at Lockheed, Afzal hopes to find a solution to that.
Now, you might be thinking what possible good can come from making a device that's more destructive in every way to a gun? Afzal believes that the technology has lots of opportunities in defense. He may not have a power source small enough to be a phaser, but he does have one big enough to destroy a missile. Using this technology, it's possible to destroy incoming missiles well before they reach their intended target. Before Afzal came along, the size of the generator needed to do this could have been as big as a house, but the laser specialist has developed it to be small enough to fit on the back of a flatbed truck.
If you'd like to learn more about Afzal's work, then you can watch this video of him showing off his mad skills. Fair warning: there are big boring science words like "fiber optics."
This clip comes from the upcoming Smithsonian documentary Building Star Trek. In honor of the iconic series' 50th anniversary, the documentary is a celebration of the iconic franchise and its effect on science and society. Building Star Trek will premiere on September 4 at 8:00 p.m. ET on the Smithsonian Channel.