Building a site thoroughly devoted to the concept of a warp drive has been on my mind for some time now. With the creation and completion of the Interstellar Journey documentary, that you can find on the home page, the time seemed right to build this site.The scientific warp drive community is currently rather small and there’s not much serious research going on right now. The likely reasons for this are two-fold.
1. The Giggle Factor
The giggle-factor is a consequence of using a name for a cutting edge propulsion concept that is taken straight from science fiction. In reality the name is a double-edged sword. When one mentions a ‘warp drive’ it should be immediately obvious (one would hope) that what is being dicussed is a hypothetical propulsion mechanism that utilizes an asymmetric manipulation of the fabric of spacetime to generate an exotic curvature which allows one to circumvent the traditional limitations of Special Relativity and travel at superluminal velocities.
The reality is that one typically pictures the crew of the Enterprise facing crucial issues of interstellar morality that are usually resolved by Captain Kirk wooing an attractive starfleet officer and using sheer cunning to outwit a robot with a supercomputer for a CPU and generally causing it to overheat in the process.
2. The Miracle
The second reason that warp drives are generally not popular research topics are that exotic and unproven forms of energy are usually necessary to generate the ‘warp’ and the energies required are so large that even a Type III Kardashev civilization would grumble in disbelief.
These two reasons are enough to deter most physicists away from the study of warp drives and lure them into more conventional research arena’s. That said, I do believe that the ‘Giggle Factor’ plays possibly the strongest role in this aversion to the study of warp drive. I say this because there is another faster-than-light loop-hole in the laws of physics called the Einstein-Rosen bridge, otherwise known as a wormhole.
The wormhole is an equally exotic solution to Einstein’s field equations also requiring negative energy and prodigous amounts of energy to sustain. Despite these similiarities, the study of wormholes enjoys a somewhat rich and active research community. A quick peek at Spires (the ‘Google’ of physics research) and a keyword search for ‘wormhole’ produces 1248 research papers, with 10 papers being released to arXiv in the month of August alone.
Compare this with the rather abysmal and pathetic 33 research papers when one performs a keyword search for ‘warp’ and ‘drive’, with an average of 1 to 2 papers being released a year. It’s clear that, despite the theoretical similarities in the two FTL schemes, that warp drive suffers from a serious image problem most likely related to the Giggle Factor.
There’s one other possibility why wormholes may be ahead of the curve, and that’s the simple fact that wormhole research has a number of ‘big name’ physicists behind it. This cadre includes: Hermann Weyl, John Wheeler, Kip Thorne and Matt Visser to name a few.
It seems to me that warp drive research could experience a serious ‘kick-start’ if a few more reputable physicists devoted a little time to their study…anyone have Ed Wittens email address handy?