Part of what got me thinking about this was this question about whether Federation transporters use matter or energy and my answer. My answer is taken from the Star Trek: The Next Generation Writers' Technical Manual, Fourth Season Edition. This is sent to all writers and prospective writers (that's how I got it) as the official source of how everything technical works in Star Trek.

On the larger section on the transporter (and not the short summary), On page 28, under The Transporter - Once and for All:

... The stream of molecules read by the pads is sent to the Pattern Buffer, a large cylindrical tank surrounded by superconducting electromagnetic coils. It is here that the object to be transported is stored momentarily before actual beaming away from the ship (or even within the ship). It is the Pattern Buffer and its associated subsystems that have been improved the most in the last half-century. While the actual molecules of an object are held in a spinning magnetic suspension (eight minutes before degradation), the construction sequence of the object can be read, recorded in computer memory (in some cases), and reproduced. There are limits to the complexity of the object, however, and this is where the potential "miracle" machine still eludes.

The Transporter cannot produce working duplicate copies of living tissue or organ systems.

The reason for this is that routine transport involves handling the incredibly vast amount of information required to "disassemble" and "reassemble" a human being or other life form. To transport something, the system must scan, process, and transmit this pattern information. This is analogous to a television, which serves as a conduit to the vast amount of visual information in a normal television transmission.

And then, from the same section, on page 29:

From the Pattern Buffer, the molecular stream and the coded instructions pass through a number of subsystems before reaching the emitter. These include the Subspace, Doppler, and Heisenberg Compensators. Each works to insure that the matter stream is being transmitted or received is in the correct phase, frequency, and so on. (sic)

In short, objects are disassembled by the transporter, the molecules and data about them (like brownian motion) will all be stored and transmitted and re-assembled. This pretty much blows the whole "matter-energy scrambler" theory out of the water and says that the transporter does not change matter to energy and back again.

Yet in the same tech manual, on page 12, under Transporter (this is the shorter summary section), we have this:

Replication technology: The ability to convert matter into energy and back again implies the ability to replicate objects. This is done in the ship's food service units which instantly recreate any dish in the computer's memory.

(I am not using selective quotations or hiding anything relevant, so this is not a game I'm playing by revealing only selected information from the guide.)

The problem here is that, as described in the tech manual itself, the transporter does not convert matter to energy. It creates a stream of matter and reassembles it at the destination.

As I understand this, it would mean that the replicators could replicate material made of the same molecules of whatever is in storage. For example, if you have enough raw carbon molecules, they could be re-assembled into a diamond or graphite, but they could not be broken down through energy/matter conversion and used to make a piece of iron.

Is this (using a matter stream for transport) totally incompatible with replicator technology? Or is there a way, using the transporter technology as described, to still provide replicator technology as we've seen in Star Trek?

4 Answers 4


Replicators don't need matter-energy conversion. K. Eric Drexler's book Engines of Creation describes building up objects atom by atom using nanoscale assemblers. It isn't much of a stretch to believe that complex objects can be created this way, since our own bodies were assembled from the inside out by molecular processes driven by random events. We have crude replicators already called 3D printers, that will build up complex shapes, but the materials you can currently use are severely limited.

So there are at least two answers to your question. One way is an assembly line of atomic scale manipulators, putting together objects atom by atom. We can already manipulate single atoms directly; I seem to remember IBM researchers writing "IBM" on a surface by positioning single xenon atoms.

Another way to replicate objects is the way nature builds complex living things, i.e. using a compressed programmatic description called a genotype that when placed in the proper medium will produce a phenotype, a finished organism. Everything from birds to electric eels are all produced via this process, so there's no obvious limit as to what could be created.

  • 1
    Wow -- I really appreciate the detail in your answer. I definitely learned something from this!
    – Tango
    Commented Feb 18, 2012 at 2:27
  • 1
    Re IBM written in atoms: this is presumably the image you're thinking of.
    – Jules
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 7:21

This is directly addressed in the Star Trek TNG: Technical Manual.

In short, a stock of material held in storage somewhere on the ship is transported from one place to another. During transport, the replicators use a pre-set pattern to convert the matter stream from one material to another, resulting in the arrival of foodstuffs, medicine or tools.

These replicator system headends are located on Deck 12 in the Saucer Module and on Deck 34 in the Engineering Section. These systems operate by using a phase-transition coil chamber in which a measured quantity of raw material is dematerialized in a manner similar to that of a standard transporter. Instead of using a molecular imaging scanner to determine the patterns of the raw stock, however, a quantum geometry transformational matrix field is used to modify the matter stream to conform to a digitally stored molecular pattern matrix. The matter stream is then routed through a network of waveguide conduits that direct the signal to a replicator terminal at which the desired article is materialized within another phase transition chamber.

In order to minimize replicator power requirements, raw stock for food replicators is stored in the form of a sterilized organic particulate suspension that has been formulated to statistically require the least quantum manipulation to replicate most finished foodstuffs

There is no conversion of energy to matter, only the conversion of one form of matter to another through the use of a quantum geometry transformational matrix field.

  • Is this not the same book that OP cited?
    – J Doe
    Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 4:47
  • @JDoe - No. The TNG: Writer's Manual and TNG: Technical Manual are two different documents. One is written as an explicit guide to would-be Trek writers and the other is an in-universe(ish) guide to the Galaxy-Class Enterprise and its systems.
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 8:51
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    The mass publication tech manual is a fleshed out version of the writer's technical manual, which came directly from the producers at Paramount as part of a prep package for writers coming in to pitch.
    – Tango
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 2:53
  • @Tango - Fleshed out, sure, but with some elements added and some elements missing. Not everything from the TNG Writer's Guide made it into the manual and some bits ended up in other in-universe documents like the DS9 Writer's Guide, DS9 Technical Manual and Voyager Writer's Guide (which never got a Manual :-( )
    – Valorum
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 5:51
  • @Valorum: I hate it when they do things like that. It really can mess with your head if you got the first one and relied on that for pitches and such, then find out, "Oh, it's different now."
    – Tango
    Commented May 3, 2018 at 0:53

I agree with Kyle. The patterns are stored as a digital program whereas the transporter is a more analogue device. The term matter to energy could refer from energy being used to assemble the atom (whether the replicators have a bank of elements they used to build or build the atom at of pure energy), this is pure guesswork, but is the only science bases strategy that may work based on the level of technology they have. This could explain why latinum cant be replicated, due to a quantum signature which the atom builders cant produce. However, theoretically replicators could work off the principles of quantum superposition, everything exiting in every place at once, and you merely control that.

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    I'm not clear on the purpose of this answer, other than it being a, "Me, too. I agree with this other answer," type of post, as opposed to a clear and distinct self-supporting answer.
    – Tango
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 13:07
  • @Tango OK, I felt that was aggressive. I was only stating that I agreed with the principles. I added that replicators could work off quantum superposition. There are only so many ideas you can give to make fiction have no continuity errors. This is fiction, idea is share ideas and add upon them.
    – Pioneer
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 16:19
  • The best place to add something like, "I agree, and here's some extra on that," would be in the comments. You may want to read more about how SE sites work in the Help section - the link is in the bar on the top of the page. The purpose of providing an answer is to answer a question as authoritatively as possible (which sometimes includes citing a source if it helps). As to fiction, yes, it is, but if you go through this site, you'll find questions are answered within the various fictional universes, unless specified otherwise. Sometimes we have to work with what is given in that universe.
    – Tango
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 0:14
  • @Tango ok, perhaps I should of played it as a comment, sorry, this answer was months ago, when I first started using stack exchange
    – Pioneer
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 7:19
  • Weird - it didn't show up until this week when I got a notification about it! Well, it's part of the learning curve, I guess.
    – Tango
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 18:38

First of all Replicators can use something as neutrinos' mass. To make nearly any thing you want out of thin air. By using them in a 3d printer All that is required is a energy scoop. to isolate the mass of the neutrinos. Then transfer the desired form to a computer,or smart pen. This is an suggestion.

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    Welcome to SFFSE! Do you have any sources to support these claims? This doesn't really address the question either! Commented Oct 19, 2015 at 23:38

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