Recent advances in transporter-based molecular synthesis have resulted in a number of significant spinoff technologies. Chief among these are transporter- based replicators. These devices permit replication of virtually any inanimate object with incredible fidelity and relatively low energy cost.
There are two main replication systems on board the Enterprise. These are the food synthesizers and the hardware replicators. The food replicators are optimized for a finer degree of resolution because of the necessity of accurately replicating the chemical composition of foodstuffs. Hardware replicators, on the other hand, are generally tuned to a lower resolution for greater energy efficiency and lower memory matrix requirements. A number of specially modified food replication terminals are used in sickbay and in various science labs for synthesis of certain pharmaceuticals and other scientific supplies.
These replicator system headends are located on Deck 12 in the Saucer Module and on Deck 34 in the Engineering Section. These systems operate by using a phase-transition coil chamber in which a measured quantity of raw material is dematerialized in a manner similar to that of a standard transporter. Instead of using a molecular imaging scanner to determine the patterns of the raw stock, however, a quantum geometry transformational matrix field is used to modify the matter stream to conform to a digitally stored molecular pattern matrix. The matter stream is then routed through a network of waveguide conduits that direct the signal to a replicator terminal at which the desired article is materialized within another phase transition chamber.
In order to minimize replicator power requirements, raw stock for food replicators is stored in the form of a sterilized organic particulate suspension that has been formulated to statistically require the least quantum manipulation to replicate most finished foodstuffs.
REPLICATION VERSUS STORAGE
The use of replicators dramatically reduces the requirement for carrying and storing both foodstuffs and spare parts. The limiting factor is the energy cost of molecular synthesis versus the cost of carrying an object onboard the ship. In the case of foodstuffs, the cost of maintaining a large volume of perishable supplies becomes prohibitive, especially when the cost of food preparation is included. Here, the energy cost of molecular synthesis is justified, especially when one considers the dramatic mass savings involved with extensive recycling of organic material.
On the other hand, certain types of commonly used spare parts and supplies are not economical for replication. In such cases, the items in question are used in sufficient quantity that it is more economical to store finished products than to spend the energy to carry raw materials and synthesize the finished product on demand. Additionally, significant stores of critical spares and consumables are maintained for possible use during Alert situations when power for replication systems may be severely restricted or unavailable.
The chief limitation of all transporter-based replicators is the resolution at which the molecular matrix patterns are stored. While transporters (which operate in realtime) recreate objects at quantum-level resolution suitable for life-forms, replicators store and re-create objects at the much simpler molecular-level resolution, which is not suitable for living beings.
Because of the massive amount of computer memory required to store even the simplest object, it is impossible to record each molecule individually. Instead, extensive data compression and averaging techniques are used. Such techniques reduce memory storage required for molecular patterns by factors approaching 2.7 x 10. The resulting single-bit inaccuracies do not significantly impact the quality of most reproduced objects, but preclude the use of replicator technology to re-create living objects. Single-bit molecular errors could have severely detrimental effects on living DNA molecules and neural activity. Cumulative effects have been shown to closely resemble radiation-induced damage.
The data themselves are subject to significant accuracy limits. It is not feasible to record or store quantum electron-state information, nor can Brownian motion data be accurately re-created. Doing so would represent another billion-fold increase in the memory required to store a given pattern. This means that even if each atom of every molecule were reproduced, it is not feasible to accurately re-create the electron shell activity patterns or the atomic motions that determine the dynamics of the biochemical activity of consciousness and thought.
FOOD REPLICATION SYSTEM
Food service on board the Vanguard is provided by a molecular replication system that can instantly recreate any of thousands of food selections at a moment's notice. This system employs transporter-based matter replication which can produce, with almost total fidelity, nearly 4,500 types of foods, which are stored in computer memory.
The heart of the food replication system is a pair of molecular matrix matter replicators located on Decks 12 and 34. These devices dematerialize a measured quantity of raw material in a manner similar to that of a standard transporter. Unlike a standard transporter, however, no molecular imaging scanners are used to derive analog pattern data of the original material. Instead, a sophisticated quantum geometry transformational matrix field is used to modify the matter stream to conform to a digitally stored molecular pattern matrix.
The matter stream is then routed through a network of waveguide conduits to any one of hundreds of replicator terminals located throughout the spacecraft. Such terminals are located in most living quarters as well as in various lounges and common dining areas. The molecular pattern matrix controls the rematerialization process at the replication terminal, so that the finished product is a virtually identical copy of the original dish.
The raw food stock material is an organic particulate suspension, a combination of long-chain molecules that has been formulated for minimum replication power requirements. When dematerialized, using a slightly modified phase transition coil chamber, the resulting matter stream statistically requires the least quantum transformational manipulation to replicate most finished foodstuffs. This “transmutation” of matter is a modern scientific miracle, but the use of this raw material keeps the energy cost within reason.
Although the raw food stock is normally replaced at starbase resupply, osmotic and electrolytic fractioning of wastewater allows up to 82% of food stock to be reclaimed and reused. In a shortage, raw food stock can be replicated from general raw stock or waste material, but the energy cost is correspondingly higher, so this practice is to be avoided. This system is relatively expensive to operate in terms of mass of the hardware involved and the energy cost of operation, but it is a significant savings over a traditional food storage and preparation system. Older techniques required the storage (either in refrigeration or stasis) of a large number of raw foodstuff types. The total mass of stored foodstuffs would have to be nearly twenty times greater in order to provide even a tenth of the menu items offered by the replicator system. Because food is stored as a single uniform staple, very little mass and storage penalty is incurred in providing an extremely wide range of menu choices. Extensive recycling of food stock permits an even more dramatic mass savings over extended voyages. Further, the labor involved even in automated food preparation (and the crew support costs thereby incurred) further increases the cost of traditional food service.
As with all transporter-based replication systems, the food replicators operate at molecular resolution. Because of this, there are significant numbers of single-bit errors in the resulting replicated materials. These errors are not nutritionally significant (although some individuals do claim to be able to taste differences in certain dishes), but certain types of Altarian spices have shown a tendency to become mildly toxic when replicated, so their use is avoided in replicated dishes.