The Star Trek TV series continues to be a source of inspiration for inventors, scientists, engineers, and artists, fans’ career choices, college courses, charitable work, and much more. Here are just a few examples of how Star Trek has impacted the world.
The number of real technologies that have been inspired by Star Trek — which include Bluetooth headsets and tablet computers — is impressive. Star Trek: The Exhibition illustrates this point with props from the series placed next to the real-world technology the props inspired. One of the most well-known examples of Star Trek-inspired tech is the portable cell phone. Inventor Martin Cooper, Ph.D. claims that he saw the characters on Star Trek using communicators and had to make it so.
More recently, a team of engineers from NASA and Britain’s National Health Service debuted the first Trekian sick bay. The unit can analyze patient breath, urine, oxygenation, blood flow, and even features a tool that visually inspects skin. The sick bay may make it easier than ever to diagnose cancer. This leap in diagnostic technology is just the beginning for project spokesman Mark Sims, a professor and space scientist at the University of Leicester, who says the ultimate goal is to create something similar to Star Trek’s tricorder device.
Astrophysicist Candy Torres credits Star Trek not only for her interest in science, but also for showing her a type of utopia where all races and genders, not to mention species, lived harmoniously on the Enterprise and everybody was valued for their efforts and skills. In a CNN profile of Torres, she explains that as a Puerto Rican female growing up in the Bronx, she was constantly told that her dreams of working for NASA were beyond reach. Even at Rutgers University, Torres felt that the aerospace engineering program was a boys’ club that made it difficult for women to study in the field. Still, Torres held on to the ideal Star Trek utopia and pushed through to obtain her goals.
RC Davison, author of the novel Orbital Maneuvers, remembers being fascinated as a child by Mr. Spock. Davison credits the show with feeding his interest in the sciences during a childhood in a small town where exposure to chemistry, physics, biology, and astronomy was scant. For Davison, Mr. Spock was the role model that caused him to choose a career in the sciences. That career, combined with a fascination of space travel, led Davison to write Orbital Maneuvers after a degree in physics, and a long career in electrical engineering.
Trek-themed college courses
Dr. Philip Kesten was inspired by Star Trek to study physics and now uses Star Trek to inspire students at Santa Clara University. Most of the students in Dr. Kesten’s “Physics 5: The Science of Star Trek” course are not physics majors; in fact, many are seeking degrees in the fine arts. It is too soon to tell if or how these students will carry Trekian inspiration into their careers, but Dr. Kesten’s use of Star Trek will surely inspire some career paths, as it makes physics more accessible for people who otherwise might avoid the sciences altogether.
Professor Anthony Rotolo of Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies offers a class that examines the modern Information Age by way of Star Trek. The class, “Star Trek and the Information Age” asks students to think critically about myriad issues that society faces now and in the future — it’s a little WWKD (What Would Kirk Do?). The collective is larger than enrolled students; anybody can join in the discussions on Twitter by following Trek Class (@TrekClass) and by reading the Trek Class blog.
Hope for the future of humanity
Gene Roddenberry himself was inspired by Star Trek. In interviews, Roddenberry is quoted as explaining that through Star Trek, he maintained hope for the future of humanity. Roddenberry particularly liked the idea that humanity will continue to improve, both in achievements and humanitarianism, and the show illustrated a better way of thinking about others, in a future of tolerance and acceptance.
Roddenberry would be proud to know that his creation inspired teenager Sarah Madison toward charitable acts. Sarah shares her interest in Star Trek with her mother, Beth. Sarah and a group of close friends began holding charity bake sales in primary school. Their first bake sale raised money for Hurricane Katrina victims, and Sarah and her baking crew enjoyed it so much that they have continued to hold the sales for different charitable organizations. When actor Alexander Siddig announced that he was donating his appearance fee from a Star Trek convention to Doctors Without Borders, Sarah and crew held a bake sale for the charity and donated in Siddig’s name. Sarah’s mom wrote to Siddig about the fundraiser, and Sarah found herself being cheered by the Trekkie community. Sarah’s hard work inspired Beth to donate a photography book of images she captured over years of Star Trek conventions to raise money for an organization for children battling cancer.
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