In the Star Trek: Voyager episode ‘The Gift’, Kes and Tuvok meditate, and when Kes claims she can see beyond the "subatomic" level and even manipulate matter at that level, Tuvok clearly replies:

Kes... there isn't anything beyond subatomic level.

Is this a new kind of physics? Even now, in the 21st century, we know that there are a whole lot of things beyond subatomic level: protons, neutrons and even below them -- quarks.

What does "subatomic" mean?

  • 3
    It means science-illiterate script-writing. Would an extremely intelligent Vulcan say that in response, or would he infer that she had specific meaning something along the lines of "String Theory strings" and either reply as if that were her meaning? But the Star Trek writers were never very sophisticated, and this is just another lazy attempt at creating an atmosphere of mystery and unimaginable powers that they didn't work hard enough to deserve.
    – John O
    Mar 12, 2014 at 18:46
  • 6
    Tuvok is correct, there is nothing "beyond [i.e. smaller than] subatomic level" according to the current definition of "subatomic", it was Kes who wasn't making sense (unless the definition has changed in their time). "Subatomic" is currently defined to mean anything on smaller scales than single atoms, see merriam-webster.com/dictionary/subatomic and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subatomic_scale
    – Hypnosifl
    Mar 12, 2014 at 21:18
  • See can see Strings... Check the String Theory. If you expand an Atom to the size of observable universe, a tree would represent size of a String.
    – user931
    Mar 12, 2014 at 22:22
  • Who knows what a Traveler sees?
    – steenbergh
    Nov 13, 2015 at 14:15
  • 1
    @JohnO I thought they had science advisors/consultants to help with the technobabble etc. and avoid such scripting pitfalls. Although, Trek is littered with words and phrases meant to suggest future technologies and scientific discoveries but sound like total nonsense to even the modestly science-literate.
    – Anthony X
    Jan 1, 2017 at 18:29

2 Answers 2


The Atomic Level refers to the parts of an atom - Protons, Neutrons, ect. It is the level at which atoms are put together, not the level at which they connect. Subatomic would be the level below that - Quarks et cetera. What Kes is saying is that she can see BEYOND Quarks to an even finer level of detail.

...Or at least, this is probably what the writers intended - advances in the understanding of the Subnuclear Level have led to a separate classification for particles in that area, so what likely happened here is a misunderstanding on the writer's part as to what "Subatomic" actually meant.

  • I had a whole answer written up about how of course Tuvok would be confused because by definition, anything smaller than an atom would be "subatomic", so the concept of "below" that would have no meaning. But I like your answer better. +1
    – Roger
    Mar 12, 2014 at 17:44
  • 7
    "Atomic" never refers to protons or neutrons. Those would be "subatomic". When we say "atom bomb" or "atomic energy", we're referring to the fact that these things work at the level of the atom, splitting the atom apart or changing it into a new isotope. This use of the word was coined back before anyone had even detected the subatomic particles, back before it was certain how radioactive elements worked.
    – John O
    Mar 12, 2014 at 18:44
  • Good point john o Mar 12, 2014 at 22:28
  • @JohnO Very good point... unfortunately in our, real world only. My example (probably) shows, that in Star Trek world this isn't necessary true. "Atomic" and "subatomic" can refer to anything there! :] Anyway, thanks for a great comment!
    – trejder
    Mar 13, 2014 at 20:37

Subatomic is too general a term. For particles, subatomic is smaller than anything in the Periodic Table of the Elements. However, subatomic would include the Elementary particles such as photon, electro, quarks and neutrinos, and particles built from the elementary particles - proton and neutron as well as quasiparticles. Quantum fields are also subatomic.

Anti-matter is usually subatomic in nature and applies to the elementary particles. Now, Dirac fermions have separate and distinct anti-matter versions. Majorna fermions are their own antiparticle. Weyl fermions have their own anti particle. However, Weyl fermions are massless charge, so anti-matter does not exclude massless particles.

Negative mass refers to elementary particles.

  • 2
    I don't people would typically apply the term subatomic to photons. Jul 20, 2016 at 20:29

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