The American Association for the Advancement of Science: Star Trek boldly goes across new sci-fi frontiers

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The Independent Online
AN ANALYSIS of a quarter century of the television programme Star Trek has revealed how the shows have become more scientifically sophisticated but less optimistic than in the Sixties.

Trekkies of the 1990s have to cope with more complex ideas that require a firmer grounding in science, according to an American researcher who has spent her spare time investigating the chemistry in Star Trek.

Although scientific ideas have matured since the first series began in 1966, science itself is viewed with more circumspection, said Natalie Foster, a research chemist at Lehigh University at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

One episode in the 1960s displayed the belief in the scientific method, arguing that any problem can be solved with the right line of research, Dr Foster said. But by the 1990s, a growing pessimism with science had crept in, summed up by the line 'all (scientific) achievement has a price'. Dr Foster said the decline of optimism in science was 'one of the big differences between the Sixties and the Nineties'.

Trekkies of today are more technologically literate than ever. They have to deal with intricate ideas and plots that require a more than superficial knowledge of science.

In a 1967 episode, a spy used relatively simple radio transmission to pass on information; in 1991, information from a computer was encoded into the sequence of amino-acids in a protein and injected into the bloodstream for safe-keeping. Dr Foster said: 'This idea of a designer protein with an encoded message that was resistant to degradation was extraordinarily elegant and doesn't require a huge leap of faith.

'It underscores the progress we've made in understanding DNA, genetic codes and protein synthesis and a whole raft of chemical topics in those 25 years that separate the two shows.'

Scientific sophistication is not, of course, the only change. Political correctness now makes it necessary to say that no one now goes where no man had gone before.

(Photograph omitted)

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