[ skip to content ]


Is the science and technology of the 21st century producing anything similar to the deflector shields, tricorder scanners and other fictional gadgetry shown in Star Trek episodes of the 1960s? That was the question asked by a History Channel documentary maker who visited the Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics on Wednesday, Nov. 1, and his answer was a qualified yes.

Innovative work by Reidy Center researchers, including the founder and director Karl Schoenbach, as well as Mounir Laroussi and Richard Nuccitelli, does remind of Star Trek science fiction. The three are faculty members in computer and electrical engineering at Old Dominion University, which operates the Reidy Center together with the Eastern Virginia Medical School.

Producer John Logsdon, who is making a documentary special for the History Channel's prime-time Modern Marvels series, interviewed the researchers and filmed some of their experiments during his visit to the center. He said the show is tentatively titled "The Science of Star Trek" and is scheduled to debut in January 2007.

Schoenbach and Laroussi are leading researchers in the field of plasmas, which are soups of supercharged gases. Work that Laroussi has done for the United States Air Force involves plasma applications that can be likened to Star Trek's "shields up" deflectors. Experiments show that plasma could cloak an aircraft or spacecraft to shield it from high-energy weapons or radar.

Laroussi also demonstrated for the History Channel producer his hand-held plasma pencil, sometimes called a plasma saber, which shoots out a plume of cold plasma. The plume is harmless to the touch, but can kill bacteria. Several national publications, including National Geographic, have made note of Laroussi's invention of the pencil and how it resembles a futuristic light saber.

Nuccitelli's Bioelectric Field Imager, which is now undergoing clinical trials, can be compared to the tricorder, a Starfleet scanner that routinely was used to check for life forms and determine other characteristics of potential landing areas for the Starship Enterprise. Nuccitelli's scanner can be passed over skin to measure electric fields. The measurements might detect a malignant skin lesion or reveal the seriousness of a wound.

"The Imager is probably the closest thing to a tricorder that exists today because the probe does not actually touch the skin while it measures the electric field," Nuccitelli said.

Added Laroussi, who has appeared previously on History Channel technology shows, "They taped all day and they seemed very satisfied with the material they got."

This article was posted on: November 2, 2006

Old Dominion University
Office of University Relations

Room 100 Koch Hall Norfolk, Virginia 23529-0018
Telephone: 757-683-3114

Old Dominion University is an equal opportunity, affirmative action institution.