It appears that a phaser vaporizes organic matter on maximum setting. Remember that in this episode several lower settings barely phase Yuta but the maximum setting completely vaporizes her with no visible remains in the episode.

In TNG Episode "Vengeance Factor"

RIKER: Stop. (The first shot is a mild stun. Yuta staggers, then reaches for Chorgan again. The next shot is higher. Then Riker puts the phaser up to full power)

RIKER: Yuta, don't do this. (She moves towards Chorgan again, and Riker vaporizes her)

However In TNG episode "Aquiel" we see that even to end up with gooey remains it would take thirty to forty seconds at the maximum setting.

In TNG episode "Aquiel"

RIKER: Doctor Crusher tells me that in order to inflict the kind of molecular damage found in Rocha's remains, it would take a sustained phaser discharge of at least thirty to forty seconds. That doesn't sound like self-defence to me.

Somehow in the TNG episode "Conspiracy" a human that was infected with the alien parasite was only stunned by a phaser set at maximum.

In TNG episode "Conspiracy"

CRUSHER [OC]: You must set your phaser on kill. Stun has little effect.

So my question is when does a phaser kill organic matter and when does it vaporize it? You can add in the "goo" as well from the episode "Conspiracy" if you like. If you could give some information as to why it works differently in different circumstances that would be helpful.

  • Possible answers may be found here: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/12474/… Commented May 14, 2015 at 6:27
  • @MajorStackings I just read it. That dealt with multiple settings, etc. Some tried to give an explanation, but assumed that it always vaporized people on the highest setting. In my question I am concerned with only the highest setting and gave examples of when sometimes it vaporized and sometimes did not. But I appreciate the link and information.
    – JMFB
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 6:43
  • 7
    Set phasers to "plot"?
    – Jaydee
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 12:44
  • 2
    Since we know the parasites in "Conspiracy" made the host stronger, and we conjecture it also somehow makes their body more resistant to phaser fire. When they kill Remmick at the end, both Picard and Riker are firing on kill for a sustained period. First he's stunned, then his head explodes, then they vaporize the alien creature in his chest. Clear this is much more resilient than other cases of phaser fire. Commented May 14, 2015 at 14:51
  • 3
    @JMFB: It's an alien and it's a TV show. It doesn't need more explanation than that. There are other aliens that are resistant to phaser fire. Commented May 14, 2015 at 15:40

4 Answers 4


There is a difference in the power settings available in different models of phasers. The STUN settings (of various levels) are supposed to disable the target without causing any serious damage. The KILL settings don't necessarily kill all targets, they just cause varying amounts of damage (I think Beverly Crusher once shot an alien in the chest on a high KILL setting leaving a fist-sized hole in it's chest, but that still didn't kill it immediately). The highest possible phaser levels are DISRUPT settings, which actually disintegrate the target. It's unclear from watching whether the incidents where targets aren't disintegrated are due to a less-powerful model of phaser or if the person firing the weapon simply chose a lower setting for some reason.


Since we don't really know how a phaser works, even in-universe, one can only guess. Possibilities include, but are not limited to:

  • molecular/particle cohesion is greater in some beings than others;
  • psionic or energy shielding could resist the vaporization effect;
  • the induced chemical change of "vaporization" may differ based on chemical composition;
  • variations in energy absorption characteristics.

Ok, so a phaser uses the rapid nadion effect, but that's relatively unimportant right now. There are 16 settings on a phaser, according to the Star Trek Next Generation Technical Manual. Settings 1-3 are light to heavy stun, 5-6 are burn, 7 is kill instantly, and 8 is vaporizing organic matter, which is normally called maximum. 9-12 are for vaporizing things like rock, or metal. 13-16 are self destruct settings, and have the power of a very small ICBM. And another thing: to vaporize a target, you must put the same amount, or more, of energy that was used to form said object. So things that were formed with more energy requires more energy to vaporize. And covering the "beaming through the shields" thing, the shields have a frequency, and they cycle through patterns. Anyone who saw Star Trek Generations knows when you have a weapon/whatever at the same frequency as the shields, you can go through. So that will work, and the other reason is that shields have gaps in them every so often, as to scan the surroundings, and you can use said gaps to beam through. So that wraps up everything.

  • 1
    Could you provide a source for your statement, "to vaporize a target, you must put the same amount, or more, of energy that was used to form said object. So things that were formed with more energy requires more energy to vaporize."
    – sfhq_sf
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 3:04
  • Or sources, in general, for the whole answer.
    – Marakai
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 3:45
  • 1
    @sfhq_sf: It's physics (or some might say: chemistry). For vaporizing, you have to put more energy into the system than is stored in it in form of various forms of what you could call "binding energies". That's why you need (ceteris paribus) much more energy for vaporizing crystalline structures like e.g. glass or diamond than you need for vaporizing e.g. wood. Commented May 17, 2016 at 9:26

Same reason why you can beam through raised shields one week, and not next week; Inconsistent writing. ( Yes, that improved during TNG's run, but still . . . )

  • 1
    OP was clearly looking for an 'in-universe' reason.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 15, 2015 at 11:16

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