The Replicator, as seen in Star Trek: The Next Generation, was used primarily to provide food for the crew in the final frontier. According to fan theories, the device functioned by rearranging the subatomic particles already found in abundance, across the universe. Starting with atoms of carbon, hydrogen and adding proteins and acids, the machine could easily recreate meat cuts, among all other sorts of foods and beverages (Like tea, Earl Grey, hot.)
While significant liberties were taken with the science and technology concepts surrounding the replicator, the first attempts at creating a real life system that theoretically may turn energy to matter are currently underway. The secret? Really big lasers.
The Extreme Light Infrastructure, currently under development in Europe, is being billed as “the most powerful laser ever” and is expected to be able to produce small particles, in a vacuum. While that is a big leap away from a nearly-instant steak dinner, the core concept is fairly similar. The biggest challenge to physicists is developing a laser powerful enough to prevent particles from becoming antiparticles, where they are inevitably destroyed. Once that problem is resolved, researchers can get to work on manipulating the particles into a substantial mass.
The Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI) is currently in its implementation phase, and serves as the “world’s first international laser research infrastructure.” ELI aims to use research surrounding high-powered lasers, for greater developments in the fields of physics, medicine, and new emerging technologies.
Often credited as the most scientifically accurate sci-fi entries, the fact that researchers are actively researching the root concepts behind Star Trek replicator only echoes that statement. It may only be the next generation before we see the first attempts at food replication. Find the original story here.