25

As John O commented here on "How did Voyager replace its photon torpedoes?"

What is special about a photon torpedo that would make them unmanufacturable without specialized tools that Voyager did not have? Everything except the payload should be doable with the push of a replicator button. And the warhead itself is just M/AM is it not?

Are there things a Replicator cannot replicate? What are the actual limits of a Replicator? Could a living being be replicated?

  • Is the photon torpedo large? Maybe it just doesn't fit in the replicator. – b_jonas Oct 18 '12 at 13:29
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    They can't replicate Data... For some reason. – Kalamane Oct 19 '12 at 4:35
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    @Kalamane I think it's something to do with his positronic matrix – Sponge Bob Jul 24 '13 at 23:42
28

This is right from Wikipedia - Replicator (Star Trek):

A replicator can create any inanimate matter, as long as the desired molecular structure is on file, but it cannot create antimatter, dilithium, latinum, or a living organism of any kind; in the case of living organisms, non-canon works such as the Star Trek: the Next Generation Technical Manual state that, though the replicators use a form of transporter technology, it's at such a low resolution that creating living tissue is a physical impossibility.

  • Latinum became the de-facto currency because it could not be replicated.
  • I don't think dilithium's un-replicatability has ever been explicitly stated, but dilithium mines wouldn't be necessary if it could be replicated.
  • Likewise for antimatter, I don't recall any reason it can't be replicated. The most likely reason it doesn't get replicated is because it's simply inefficient to do so - the energy used to replicate it could instead have been used directly for whatever the antimatter reaction would have been used for.
  • There are three instances where the replicators and transporters (replicators being an offshoot of transporter technology) have arguably created "life". Because it borders on impossible, though, it's much easier to say "can't be done" - Two of those three were life forms due to accidents, and have never been successfully duplicated, while the last one was simply biological matter:
    • Thomas Riker, during a transporter accident, as discovered in TNG 6x24, Second Chances. This is likely dangerous to even attempt to duplicate, and raises too many ethical concerns of copying a person.
    • The Enterprise-D's offspring, in TNG 7x23, Emergence, which AFAIK the Federation has never figured out how it happened, nor has been able to duplicate it. This "life" would not have been recognizable as such without the scanners anyway, and required continuous transporter/replicator use for hours, making it extremely difficult to duplicate.
    • Worf's new spine, in TNG 5x16, Ethics, was created with a Genitronic Replicator, a brand-new invention that had to scan the genetic information of an already-existing organ in order to duplicate it. This was not life, exactly, but it is biological replication.


EDIT

Additional note that may clarify the "life" part. In a comment, DaveP asked:

One thing that hasn't been touched on here is food. While replicated food (and not just tea, Earl Grey, hot) isn't necessarily biological, it is surely organic. Or is it?

It's not quite that simple. Occasionally in Sick Bay, you'll hear someone say "... at the cellular level", or "... at the molecular level". There's at least one level further, the "quantum level", and that's the level that's an issue.

Keep in mind, this is mostly theory picked up from all across Star Trek.

Transporters are capable of scanning/storing/transmitting/rematerializing matter across all these levels, otherwise transporters would just leave you a vegetable, unable to think. However, the quantum level (the level needed to deal with neural patterns) takes an absurd amount of memory to actually store it long-term.

Because of this, replicators are made to only work at the molecular level, so the stored patterns aren't too massive. This works for tools, food, and and so on, since most people can't tell that food replicated this way is any different from non-replicated food (although some claim to be able to tell the difference..), so there's no need to give replicators any more resolution.

This would be why a special type of just-invented replicator was necessary for Worf's spine - bodies (and body parts) in general are too complex for replicators to handle.

  • presumably the replicators cannot create antimatter because there are no anti-quark constituent particles around to use, otherwise it makes no sense. It requires precisely the same amount of energy to spontaneously form a proton or anti-proton out of "thin air", but protons are abundant and anti-protons aren't. – KutuluMike Oct 3 '12 at 19:08
  • @MichaelEdenfield That depends on which era, I believe. If I recall correctly, early TNG replicators worked by reconfiguring matter, while later on (DS9 or VOY) it was switched to pure matter/energy conversion. Matter/energy conversion would fall under the limitation I described, while matter reconfiguration would fall under "why bother converting one form of antimatter to another form of antimatter?". And they've need special magnetic containment for it anyway. – Izkata Oct 3 '12 at 19:13
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    As far as I'm aware, a photon torpedo is just a M/AM warhead. So while they might not be able to replicate the explosive bit, draining off some anti-matter from the warp cores shouldn't be too tough (and safe, since it must be some sort of exotic breeder reaction else they'd have ran out). Photon torpedos are made neither of latnium nor dilithium. We can expect some small portion is dilithium (or maybe not, we're not trying to regulate the reaction like in a warp core)... but surely they found some suitable while in the Delta quadrant. – John O Oct 3 '12 at 19:18
  • @Izkata I suspect your last part is the real problem. Converting energy to antimatter is exactly as difficult as converting energy to matter (in nature they happen with statistically equivalent probability) but if a replicator created an anti-matter cup of coffee it would annihilate pretty quickly :) – KutuluMike Oct 3 '12 at 21:45
  • One thing that hasn't been touched on here is food. While replicated food (and not just tea, Earl Grey, hot) isn't necessarily biological, it is surely organic. Or is it? – DaveP Oct 21 '12 at 12:54
8

I don't have a full answer but I will include the part I'm sure of:

Yes, there are things a replicator cannot replicate. The most notable of these examples is Latinum which is used as a currency by the Ferengi (and others), most likely for this reason (since it cannot be replicated, you cannot overcome rarity by replication). There are also examples of Industrial Replicators, though I do not know if this simply allows replication of larger items, or if they have additional capability to replicate items, perhaps ones that require more energy to make.

  • 2
    I always assumed the difference between industrial replicators and others is their size and their capabilities (also due to power supply, etc.). You can possibly compare it to other real world machines that are available for the industry as well as for consumers (vacuum cleaners, water heaters, ovens, etc.). Most replicators are shown as having space for a cup or other kinds of dishes, but I don't assume them pulling complete instruments and tools out of these. "Excuse me captain, no Earl Grey for you, I still have to replicate these spare parts first." ... just no. :) – Mario Oct 3 '12 at 18:36
  • I agree! I could also see requiring a much larger mechanism (kitchen trash compactor versus junkyard car compactor) that takes more energy being required for more complex processes, but when you're talking assembly on an atomic level, who knows. For what it's worth, I'm not aware of any canon support for the idea that industrial replicators are better at anything other than size, I just put that in there as speculation. – Zoneman Oct 3 '12 at 18:50
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    This is another example of bad writing. Presumably they can replicate anything that is atomic in nature, including chemical elements we haven't been able to synthesize yet. While I might cut them some slack and allow that strange nuclides with radioactive properties are out of bounds, whatever "latnium" is, it's not exotic matter. – John O Oct 3 '12 at 19:14
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    @JohnO No, latinum is made by combining plot device with unobtainium in the core of a supernova. – a CVn Oct 19 '12 at 13:35

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