Being shot by a phaser set to disintegrate/vaporize is rather a tidy death:

since when hit in the clothed chest, the shirt, pants, shoes, and entire lifeform within all disappear.

But the disintegration doesn't propagate through the shoes into the deck - perhaps that's too big? What if the victim was sitting in a chair with his feet off the ground - would the chair disappear too? If they're shaking hands is the shakee going to go too? How about penetrative sexual intercourse - does the penetrator "wear" the penetrated? The countless bacteria in the gut certainly vanish (much to the relief of Starfleet janitors)

Presumably along with all the other safety instructions and directives to wash hands after visiting the powder room, new Starfleet inductees get briefed on the nuances of vaporising malefactors - what are these rules?

(the dull out-of-universe explanation seems easy: dissolving between before and after views with a little rotoscoping is a lot easier than a convincing suddenly-empty-clothes-drop-to-deck effect. But it wouldn't be Star Trek without a loving in-universe rationalisation)

  • I've also wondered this, sometimes kill setting vaporized a being entirely while other times only leaving a burn mark. Good question.
    – nexus_2006
    Commented Jun 21, 2016 at 2:09
  • Here's a question that relates to this one: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/12474/…, but I don't think it's an actual dupe. Commented Jun 21, 2016 at 2:26
  • The floor has plot armour
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 21, 2016 at 7:09
  • 2
    I can see that, and it's certainly pushing the bounds of in-universe since actual sex is pretty much off-screen. What I was musing on was how the phaser could possibly discriminate in the physical fact of "and they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" if fabric merely draped across the body is part of the extended target. Commented Jun 22, 2016 at 0:12
  • 1
    In both examples of suicide-by-phaser that I know about, the phaser gets vaporized too! Think of the hobo in City on the Edge of Forever after he steals McCoys phaser. And there's the example in the in video clip above where Captain Terrell kills himself in Wrath of Khan. Why doesn't the phaser just drop to the floor after these suicides?
    – RichS
    Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 20:46

1 Answer 1


The details of how this works are obviously not very clear. However, there is at least one instance where the disintegration effect was very clearly limited to the object that it struck. Observe what happens in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country when Lieutenant Valeris shoots a massive cooking pot.

The metal pot disintegrates entirely, but the stove below it—as well as the food inside and the metal whisk being used to stir it—are virtually untouched. It seems that, at least for the phasers used in the Star Trek VI period, the disintegration effects halts when it reaches a boundary between the object that was struck and a mass of dissimilar material.

This is almost certainly not consistent with every instance of the phaser disintegration seen in the shows and movies. However, it is an instance where the issue was clearly considered and a definite (and fairly reasonable) answer provided.

  • the same happens to Captain Terrell in Star Trek II - first when he disintegrates a Genesis scientist and later when he disintegrates himself
    – NKCampbell
    Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 13:48
  • @NKCampbell: "the same"? You mean, the food inside those people remains "virtually untouched"? Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 6:20
  • "This is almost certainly not consistent with every instance of the phaser disintegration seen in the shows and movies." - indeed. See, for instance, the scene in VOY "Future's End" where a pickup truck is vaporized in one shot. Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 6:24

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