Lab 1701

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Lab 1701: Faster-than-light Travel

1 Objective

The experimental objective of this lab is to build a model that will travel faster than the speed of light.

2 Overview

Traveling faster than the speed of light has been subject of science fiction for centuries. The popularity of the "Star Trek" series, originally broadcast almost 40 years ago and still in syndication, plus a number of "spin-off" series, is proof of this.

Many people assumed that this was fantasy since Einstein's general theory of relativity predicted that objects that approach the speed of light become increasing heavy, making it impossible to attain light speed, much less exceed it. However, it was also known that some objects such as neutrinos, always traveled close to the speed of light. Also, light itself consists of photons which, by definition, travel at the speed of light. In the late 20th Century there was speculation that an additional atomic particle called a tachyon also existed, and that this particle could only travel faster than the speed of light.

For several centuries, theories seemed to show that for relatively low velocities classical physics, as defined by Isaac Newton, prevailed. At higher velocities that were a significant fraction of the speed of light, relativistic physics, as defined by Albert Einstein, applied. However, there was considerable speculation about what would happen when an object approached close to the speed of light. A related issue was the shape of time and space. One of the phenomena predicted by the Theory of Relativity was that space was curved, where what appeared to be a straight line was actually an undetectable curve. Early experiments seemed to confirm this, where light curved in the presence of strong gravitational fields. For example, astronomers routinely measured the degree of bending of light as it passed near planets from a distant star on its way to Earth. This led to conjecture about whether space could be warped in such a manner that an object (in this case a starship) could take a short cut in a straight line and not follow the curvature of light, essentially allowing the spacecraft to seem to move faster than the speed of light between two points.

Fortunately, two technologies combined to solve this problem. First, it was necessary to safely and quickly accelerate to extremely high velocities by generating and directing massive amounts of energy quickly. This was attained by using the now-familiar matter/antimatter containment vessel. Second, the space warp was discovered to be a natural phenomenon. This effect was first noted in extremely close proximity to black holes, making the phenomenon difficult to observe from Earth, and without the technology needed to reach black holes, there was no way to study them from nearby. The breakthrough came when Prof. Zefram Cochrane of NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering successfully created a small black hole in his laboratory. It should be noted that this success came after several failures where several Metrotech buildings were apparently "sucked" into nothingness, never to be seen again, forcing him to move to an abandoned Air Force missile base in remote North Dakota.

Now, what has become trans-warp travel has become commonplace. However, this is usually accomplished with large spacecraft with crews of over 1000 people. In this lab we will "scale down" the technology so that we can construct a small model ship that will travel faster than light for a very short time.

The model will be much simpler than a real spacecraft. Also, in order for the lab to be done in the allotted time, most of the model will already be constructed for you, including a positronic guidance system that will allow the craft to only fly in a straight line. All you will need to do is attach four stabilizers (fins) to the fuselage, insert a cartridge containing liquid hydrogen (matter) and pour in antimatter into its onboard containment, mount the craft on a stand for launch, and activate the remote launch switch.

The craft will fly straight down Jay Street to the East River. It is extremely important that the model craft be launched properly since the craft will have to fly through the supports of the Manhattan Bridge approach. At the East River the craft will hit a barrier, causing it to lose substantial velocity, and drop to sublight speed, where air friction will almost destroy it. After penetrating the barrier, the remains of the craft will travel a short distance further, and fall into the East River.

In order to verify that the craft did indeed exceed the speed of light, a strobe light will flash when the craft launches. At the barrier, two atomic clocks will run. They will indicate whether the flash of the strobe light or the craft arrived first, and the difference in time. Because the difference in time will be small, it will not be possible to accurately determine the speed of the craft, but the clocks should clearly show that the craft arrived before the light from the strobe light, showing that the craft was traveling fast then the speed of light.

3 Your Assignment

Individual Lab Report

Follow the lab report guidelines laid out in the page called Specifications for Writing Your Lab Reports in the Technical Communication section of this manual. As you write, the following discussion points should be addressed in the appropriate section of your lab report:

  • Describe the problem you are solving in your introduction.
  • Describe, in general terms, how faster-than-light travel is possible
  • Describe some applications of faster-than-light travel
  • Describe how the matter/antimatter reaction occurs and its products (Note: you will have to do some online research to answer this. Be sure to put your findings in your own words to avoid plagiarism issues)
  • Did your model work? What happened? If it didn't, why didn't it?

Team PowerPoint Presentation

Follow the presentation guidelines laid out in the page called EG1003 Lab Presentation Format in the Introduction to Technical Presentations section of this manual. When you are preparing your presentation, consider the following points:

What are some of the more widely used applications of faster-than-light travel today?

If you can look into the future, what do you think the future of space travel will be?


  • Spacecraft model
  • Tube of Super Glue®
  • Matter cartridge
  • Antimatter in a containment vessel


  1. Obtain your spacecraft model from your Lab TA. The model, without fuel, will weigh 1KG. You will have to sign a receipt acknowledging that you received the craft. All members of your team will have to sign the receipt.
  2. Attach the control four control surfaces (fins)
  3. Turn on the positronic control system using the red power switch. Have it do a Level 1 Diagnostic by pressing the yellow button next to the power switch. If a green light comes on, the control system is working.
  4. Go out the front door of the building to the curb of Jay Street. You will see the "Roaming Lab TA" there. This TA will give you the matter cartridge containing 1KG of matter. Snap it into the model. Next, the TA will give you the antimatter containment vessel.
  5. CAREFULLY pour some antimatter into your model. The containment vessel will automatically pour out the proper dose of 1KG of antimatter (note: the amount of antimatter must be exactly equal to the amount of matter for this reaction). Put the stopper contained with the spacecraft model into the opening into which you poured the antimatter.
  6. Your model is now ready to launch. Give it to the TA, and the TA will mount it on the launch stand in the middle of the street. Do not distract the TA during this operation – it is critical that the launch stand be properly aligned down Jay Street so that your model will fly between the supports of the Manhattan Bridge and hit the barrier.
  7. One of your team members should take the NYU School of Engineering shuttle to the barrier so that one of you will see the launch and the other will see the end of the flight.
  8. When the team member has arrived at the barrier, the TA there will radio back to the launch site that they're ready. The TA at the launch site will then press the launch switch, sending the model on its way.
  9. The team member at the barrier should note what happened when the model hit the barrier, and anything else of interest.
  10. The team member at the barrier should board the shuttle for the trip back to the launch site to meet up with the rest of their team. The team should then meet and discuss what happened so that everybody has a complete set of observations

Your lab work is now complete. Please clean up your workstation. Return all unused materials to your TA. Refer to section 3 Your Assignment for the instructions you need to prepare your lab report.

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