What (if anything) is the difference between how the replicator creates objects from a stored pattern and the way a transporter rematerializes a transported object? Put a different way, why can the transporter transport things that the replicator cannot duplicate?

For instance, in the Voyager episode "Omega Directive", the transporter is used to beam the omega particles from a storage medium on a planet to the harmonic chambers in Voyager's cargo bay so that they can be destroyed. This gives me two questions:

  1. If the transporter could rematerialize these particles (that even the Borg had not figured out how to create with any stability), why couldn't the replicator create them?
  2. If the transporter could dematerialize these particles, why bother rematerializing them at all instead of just purging whatever buffer they were stored in?

A couple of episodes later in "Demon", the transporter is used to beam deuterium from below the surface of the planet (or, rather they try to do it). Since the replicator can perform matter->energy conversion (see Year of Hell, where Janeway makes Chakotay recycle a gift he'd made her), why couldn't they turn something like empty cargo containers or Neelix into a healthy supply of deuterium?

  • Yeah, I came to the same realization that the transporter is essentially a cloning machine. Regardless of the sheer size of information, why couldn't that same quantum pattern be sent to two receivers?
    – Jason
    Oct 29, 2013 at 1:36
  • 1
    "turn Neelix into deuterium" lol!
    – bcrist
    Mar 1, 2015 at 3:38

5 Answers 5


Sorry for the long answer, but I have a long quotation that's quite on target and I'm trying to include all the facts that I found that pertain to your question.

I'm going to my source for this, one I've cited here before, the Star Trek: The Next Generation Writers' Technical Manual, Fourth Season Edition. This was sent to me directly, in a pitch package by the ST:TNG Script Supervisor Lolita Fatjo, when I was invited in to pitch story ideas to the producers. This is one of the Writers' Guides sent to those who would be writing for the show and, in some ways, goes beyond canon because it defines canon. In other words, it tells the writers what they can and cannot do on screen.

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.

(Note: This was written when all TV was still analog and DVDs were not yet out -- and remember that we could transmit TV signals before we could actually tape and keep them.)

Continuing to quote from the same passage:

Storing that information, however, is another matter. In our analogy, it would be like comparing a television (which is incapable of storing an image) to a videocassette recorder, which can store a relatively low-resolution recording of a television program. In order to store the patterns for a human being, one would have to record not only all the atomic and molecular configurations, but all the quantum and energy states of all the electron shells, and the brownian motions of every sub-atomic partical of every atom. While we cannot store all of this incredibly complex information, we can use it as it is being handled in real time.

I've seen this with computer data in some programs I've had to write. Data came in so cast I could filter and pull what I needed, but I couldn't store it all (without filling my hard drive up).

In other words, the pattern buffers store actual atoms and molecules during transport and the information relating to them is more than can be stored in a computer. Storing the data for a cup that doesn't depend on things like Brownian motion requires much less info. Just store the data on the materials and the shape it needs to be in, and when you replicate it, just build the shape out of the needed molecules.

I think this includes most of the answer. There were cases, notably in Wolf in the Fold in the original Star Trek, where matter (in this case a human body), was beamed out into space on a wide dispersal pattern. I've never seen an explanation why the buffer just can't be purged.

I would assume (see, I'm on dangerous ground here, but I'll admit it!) that the reason they can't just purge the buffer is because, as is pointed out above, the buffer does not contain data, but actual particles, so they can't just dump them or clear them out like they would if it were a body (as they did in Wolf in the Fold). They'd be dumping the particles somewhere, but they'd still be Omega particles.

  • I've accepted your answer, as it seems hard to argue with the writer's technical manual! Jan 9, 2012 at 13:54
  • @AdamRobinson: Thanks -- I use that as a source when I can because I figure the same thing. While Okuda and Sternbach used a lot in the Writer's Guide for other books, since (in Trek), canon is what's on screen, I figure it defines canon as clearly as possible. (Sorry the answer was so long, but there was a lot to quote and it seemed a summary helped.)
    – Tango
    Jan 9, 2012 at 16:34
  • The only problem with this answer is the purging of the buffer; this was (presumably) done in DS9, where in one episode the computer had to store quantum state (personalities, brainwaves) and so stored the physical copies as holodeck recreations. I suppose it works, though, as the particles were actually converted to raw data before the pattern was lost....I'll have to go back and rewatch that episode. Aug 13, 2015 at 15:45

Quantum Teleportation and Molecular Replication

The transporter and replicator technologies appear similar to the outside viewer. Their effects resemble each other, appearing to create or move something from one place to another, indeed replication may have led to the more advanced transporter technology with the creation of quantum manipulation technologies such as the Pattern Buffer and the Heisenberg Compensators. But in this case, the issue is both one of power required to manipulate matter and the other is selectivity and data storage required to keep information about the matter in question being replicated.

The Transporter

The transporter manipulates matter at the atomic and quantum level. Literally every aspect of matter is held, gathered, analyzed and stored at the quantum level until the material is moved. This is both an energy-intensive and computer-intensive technology that references a real quantum subject and displaces that subject in a matter stream and then reconstructs the target.

The transporter might be more of a matter-displacement device, transforming the matter into an energy stream to be reconstructed or returned to the default matter state upon completion of the transport. This would explain why energy shields or ion/electrical disruptions prevent the matter-stream from being effective. It would also explain why the transporter could not (normally, until the recent Star Trek 2009) transport to a ship in warp. The matter stream was limited to the electromagnetic spectrum and the speed of light. The carrier field is delicately balanced and the quality of the signal even having the slightest variance could be dangerous to the viability of the subject transported.

The Replicator

The replicator is a molecular technology that is capable of taking source matter and converting it into the molecular compounds that are capable of being recreated using the molecular information stored in the Starfleet computers. Since the quantum information without a source would be exponentially greater, the replicator does not attempt to recreate perfectly any matter produced in it, hence the flavor issues with food as molecular compounds may less than perfectly modeled. They would be fine for consumption as safety protocols would not allow inedible matter to be created, but the taste quality might be detectable to the sophisticated palette.

Since replication is an imperfect process, it explains why certain compounds, or physical substances may either be resistant to replication or leave molecular traces that could render the object less perfect for certain kinds of work or questions of purity may make it unsuitable for the creation of currency models such as latinum which may include quantum information to ensure its "purity".

The Difference

The transporter is manipulating information thousands of times more complex and requires technology that currently cannot even be conceived of such as the "Heisenberg Compensators" which would make it possible to know everything about the quantum state of a particular subject being transported. But for the transporter to do its work, it must have a real subject whose quantum state is being manipulated and transported. It is this quantum field state that the replicator is simply incapable of analyzing or creating when it performs "molecular replication"

Both technologies are unfortunately shown being capable of doing a variety of things for the sake of plot and stories making them more often "deus ex machina" than reliable technologies that can be taken apart for scientific accuracy.

  • 1
    Thanks; this is getting closer to what I'm looking for, and it does explain the reasoning behind why the transporter could deal with things (such as the Omega particle) that the replicator could not. However, it still doesn't answer why the transporter couldn't use the same pattern buffer combined with an additional energy source to duplicate the transported subject. Jan 9, 2012 at 2:39
  • 1
    The transporter does not normally duplicate an object. It is temporarily halting the quantum existence of an object in one location and relocating it somewhere else. This is not the same as replicating it. The pattern buffer is only temporarily storing the quantum image. When the buffer is empty, the data/object is gone. Quantum data is unique to the single object being moved. Jan 9, 2012 at 3:15
  • Fair enough. Accepted! Jan 9, 2012 at 3:24
  • Sorry, I've had to accept @TangoOversway's answer, since he's quoting the actual writer's technical manual. Thanks, though! Jan 9, 2012 at 13:54

From Wiki Replicator article:

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.


However, unlike transporters, which duplicate matter at the quantum level, replicators must be capable of a large number of different materials on demand. If patterns were to be stored at the quantum level, an impossible amount of data storage (or a set of original copies of the materials) would be required. To resolve this, patterns are stored in memory at the molecular level.

The drawback of doing so is that it is impossible to replicate objects with complicated quantum structures, such as living beings, dilithium, or latinum. In reality, neither living beings nor the cited elements do necessarily have a quantum structure inherently more complicated than other things. In the TNG episode "Allegiance", aliens used their version of replicators to create a Picard impostor. Additionally, read/write errors cause a number of single-bit errors to occur in replicated materials. Though usually undetectable to human senses, computer scanning can be used to reveal these discrepancies, and they may explain the frequent complaint (by some gourmets and connoisseurs) that replicated food and beverages suffer from substandard taste. These errors also may cause a nontoxic material to become toxic when replicated, or create strains of deadly viruses and bacteria from previously harmless ones.

  • 3
    Mind you, why "gold" would have a "complicated quantum structure" is somewhat beyond me... must have a Star Trek Plot Writer's special scientific capability to figure it out I guess. Jan 8, 2012 at 19:14
  • Nice answer, though I'm not sure it really answers the question. For one, deuterium is a simple isotope of hydrogen, so its structure is not complex. Even so, though, if the data has to be stored in some way for the transporter, why couldn't the transporter be used to rematerialize multiple copies of whatever it was that it dematerialized? And what of the questions relating to The Omega Directive? Jan 8, 2012 at 19:17
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    Wait, why is gold in that list? It can be replicated, that's why latinum replaced it as currency
    – Izkata
    Jan 8, 2012 at 20:10
  • @Izkata - Wikipedia reference updated to reflect changes
    – Valorum
    Aug 2, 2014 at 15:40

Sorry, but teleporters and replicators are the same whether the writers would have it so or not.

The original series' The Enemy Within demonstrated that a teleporter could generate two identical living copies of equal mass (even if one had a little more mascara).

So teleporters and replicators both do the same thing: they convert energy to mass based on the template (pattern) of the disintegrated original which can also be held indefinitely in the computer's buffer (and yet somehow not duplicatable).

Need a second exhibit? Voyager's episode Tuvix demonstrated that the teleporter could generate organisms at half or double the source's mass.

So until Star Trek canonically addresses this discrepancy, I don't think there's any more argument that teleporters are replicators and the galaxy just lacks the imagination to use them as such.


The key to understanding a replicator is that it takes stock material and reshapes it according to a stored pattern. It cannot make that material from scratch.

Similarly a transporter simply moves material around, the material still exists and has to be dealt with in one way or another. If I transported a lit piece of TNT into space, it would explode inside the pattern buffer or in space, it would not simply disappear.

However, if I transported omega into space, it would just hang around there and still be a threat. It had to be neutralized first and so it had to be transported aboard.

  • "it would explode inside the pattern buffer" - Are you sure?
    – John
    Mar 4, 2016 at 19:42

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