Developing Warp Drive Might Take Antifreeze

In Star Trek, dilithium crystals — whatever those are — are critical to the operation of a starship’s warp drives. But a Texas professor thinks he can make a baby step towards a warp drive using ethylene glycol, which is commonly found in antifreeze.

While superluminal travel has been regarded as impossible for many years, recent work has suggested ways we might be able to circumvent the light-speed barrier. Unfortunately, all of these mathematical theories require energy and types of matter that we don’t know how to create yet. But [Dr. Chance Glen] believes that by shaping the energy in a specific way through a dielectric, the math can work out so that there’s no exotic negative energy required.

The experiment involves shooting RF energy into an antifreeze container and using a laser interferometer to detect gravity waves.  Of course, that will involve some very sensitive measurements to account for other tiny perturbations that might give false readings. As we’ve seen in the past, that’s a task easier said than done.

Does this make sense? Beats us. Our physics and math are too out of date to make a good guess about how much of this is real and how much is hype. Of course, if he does detect gravity waves, that will get us as close to warp drive as the invention of the telegraph got us to cell phones. Then again, you have to start somewhere.

If you want to know more about the state of rocket engines, including the nascent possibility of warp drives, we’ve discussed that before. Incidentally, if you think the experiment sounds a bit like the the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), you aren’t wrong.

63 thoughts on “Developing Warp Drive Might Take Antifreeze

  1. Speaking of LIGO, Matthew Mather wrote it into his NOMAD book series detecting a pair of black holes rotating around each other before LIGO had detected anything. LIGO’s first success was a pair of black holes spiraling around each other and colliding. The books go on to have the black hole pair rip through the Solar System, causing drastic alterations to the orbits of the planets, flinging Mercury and Venus away faster than Solar escape velocity while severely mucking up the orbits of other planets.

    He worked with various scientists in several fields to work out the mass, trajectory, and speed of the black holes, and the exact date they fly through to leave Earth in an altered orbit than is still within the habitable zone. Universe Sandbox was used to figure out that information, and what would happen to the orbits. It also had to end with Earth’s new orbit being *stable* and not doing anything like crashing into Saturn, which the black holes yanked into a new orbit that brought it far into the inner system.

    Here’s a video of him explaining the process of doing all that and a video of it running in Universe Sandbox.

    Sadly, the author died in a car crash September 13, 2022. He published his first book in 2012 but wrote 16 books between then and 2021.

  2. “Our physics and math are too out of date”
    Your Star Trek knowledge is lacking too. The dilithium crystals regulate the matter/antimatter reaction and generate plasma to power the warp nacelles. They don’t actually play a part in the warping of spacetime.

      1. A lot of things that where thought to be hokum, where eventually discovered and put to use. Once upon a time, medical doctors also didn’t believe in bacteria and germs. And the first to write about them was ridiculed by a lot of people. Same (and related) for sterilizing equipment before surgery. The first descriptions for why sterilization worked sounded like hokum to, because they didn’t understand cause, just the effect.

        I am not advertising for the emDrive. But I am advising an open mind. Reality has a lot of things we still need to discover or barely understand. Writing something of Indefinitely or always impossible, just because we have no clue how to do it now, is very bad. Just as bad as believing something to be true because you want it to be (emdrive case and others.).

        Who knows what we might eventually discover and enable us put things in reality we never thought possible

        1. It’s not about “having an open mind.” Fundamental physics innovations don’t come from some guy in a garage messing around with toys. That’s not meant to be dismissive: if it were that easy to break fundamental laws, we’d see it everywhere.

          The EmDrive was junk not because he said “hey, there’s this weird thrust here I can’t explain.” It was junk because he tried to explain it using nonsense gibberish, and kept changing claims for why others couldn’t repeat his results.

        2. This is a classic cope and it doesn’t apply to things so fundamental. No, this is not just like classical physics not knowing about relativity once upon a time, or cavemen not knowing what fire was until suddenly they did—and if you make that categorical error about it, you shouldn’t be discussing it.
          Yes, we will someday develop things we never thought possible before. A reactionless drive will not be one of them.

      2. You must be unfamiliar with the Alcubierre Warp Drive. It works within the rules of GR most certainly doesn’t violate causality and avoids time dilation to boot.

        The revised version even removed the need for negative energy — though it still does require roughly 9x the power output of the sun.–

        1. One way to fix the energy budget problem is to use the drive in short impulses, for example 1 microsecond of FTL every few days, while capacitors recharge. That would require roughly 3,42 x 10^21 Joules of energy. The capacitor bank should have 648 GF at 100kV. Adding a safety margin I’d say 650 GF at 110kV. I’m pretty sure we can do it, but it won’t be cheap. We could go with higher voltage, let’s say standard 440kV, that would drop capacitance to only ~36 GF.

          So yeah, we can do it…

          1. “So yeah, we can do it…”

            There’s no known way to “morph” flat space time into an Alcubierre metric, and then back again. I mean, there’s no known way to create an Alcubierre metric, so that’s a problem on its own, but even for cases where you *could* imagine it existing (Lentz’s solution) there’s still no method for going flat -> drive -> flat. It’s entirely possible that the creation/teardown of that metric requires an unbounded amount of energy.

        2. Okay. Bit of inside baseball: the Alcubierre metric doesn’t actually work within the rules of GR. Neither do wormholes, or closed timelike loops. And we don’t actually know if it violates causality because you can’t “stop” (or “start”) an Alcubierre drive (or even ‘enter’ or ‘exit’). If you’re not sure what I mean, look up the “twin paradox” and its resolution – basically, you can’t compare times (to verify causality) unless you actually take a round trip, and we don’t have the math to model a round trip.

          I know everyone says they’re “allowed” within GR. Physicists are notoriously sloppy with language, and they *love* propagating a good story.

          But the problem is the word “allowed.” General relativity as a theory is extremely simple: all it says is that a certain invariant curvature tensor (the Einstein tensor) is directly proportional to another tensor, which is derived from the local energy, momentum, and stress – the stress-energy tensor. The problem *here* is “what the heck does the stress-energy tensor mean?” What it really *came* from is just “how things move.” Yes, this means that fundamentally, the equations are saying “space is bent so that things move the way they move.” That’s why it’s just a straight forward equals.

          So why do I say that those metrics don’t work within GR? Because GR doesn’t say *anything* about what that stress-energy tensor has to look like. Not a thing. Zippo. We know what the stress-energy tensor looks like for isolated masses. We know what it looks like for the electromagnetic field. And *that’s basically it*.

          Let me be clear, then: the actual “physics” of GR isn’t contained in Einstein’s equation. It’s a lot like Newton’s second law: F=ma is actually a *definition* of force, not something that can be “violated,” just like the Einstein equation is actually a definition of the stress-energy tensor. The “physics” is actually contained within the force *laws*. And this is why it’s such a mess: the actual “physics” of GR is totally unknown. We have these things called “energy conditions” which people have *postulated* to try to constrain the stress-energy tensor. But that’s all they are – postulates. Educated guesses. And the Alcubierre drive famously violates those energy conditions. So… it *doesn’t* actually work within the rules of GR. At least, not some of them. Because we don’t actually *have* rules of GR.

          There’s a variant of the Alcubierre drive from Erik Lentz which *doesn’t* violate that energy condition. But that doesn’t mean that it’s physically possible, either! In fact, you could actually start by *assuming* “faster than light travel isn’t possible” and then say that Lentz’s solution says that that energy condition is *incomplete*.

          So – the TL;DR version – the Alcubierre drive doesn’t actually work within the physics of GR, because it is impossible to generate the stress-energy tensor that produces that metric. And the “physics” isn’t the geometry, the physics is producing that tensor.

          1. Thanks, better rundown than what I typed. The number of pop science articles about “the heckin’ epic STAR TREK warp drive that works in REAL LIFE” is too damn high (it still doesn’t work)

        3. I am familiar and the Alcubierre drive also still doesn’t work. Transfer of information between the inside of the warp bubble and the surface of the bubble is still impossible without violating the speed of light in a vacuum.

          1. As fancy as it sounds to say “transfer of information between the inside of the warp bubble,” this is really just because our math sucks.

            In my fluid dynamics class, the professor told us – we can fully model every detail of a wave crashing… until it actually does. And then we just throw up our hands and say “dunno!”

            That’s because fluid dynamics (like GR) models things as smooth, so you can’t change the topology (in the wave case, it’s also because it’s going nonlinear). You can deform a coffee cup into a doughnut with math, but you can’t turn a piece of paper into a cylinder even though a kid can do it in five seconds with a piece of tape.

            Fundamentally it’s the same problem with wormholes as well: you’re going from simply-connected spacetime (flat) to multiple-connected spacetime, and there’s no way to do that.

            It’s really something that you need to just experiment with, as fundamentally the underlying problem is that you’re modeling something as smooth when it’s not. The fancy physicists would say “this is a problem that quantum gravity will deal with!” but again, it’s really just something you figure out from experiment – yes, you could model a wave crashing with bajillions of atoms as a particle swarm, or you could parametrize the effect based on observed effects.

  3. “Does this make sense? Beats us. Our physics and math are too out of date to make a good guess about how much of this is real and how much is hype.”

    Five minute read of the paper (which is a preprint on techrxiv) immediately spots several problems. The first is that the basic idea is already goofy. They set up a bench experiment that gives null results, and then claim the problem is that the energy density is “orders of magnitude too low.” The problem here is that the dielectric properties of a medium (what he’s using to shape the energy density) are essentially an *approximation* that the field doesn’t affect the bulk properties of the medium.

    Think of it this way: when you shine light in water, it bends because the speed of light through that medium is slower than in air. But that “speed of light through water” assumes that the light (electromagnetic wave) *does not affect* the medium. The light doesn’t disturb the water. If you shine an exawatt laser at water, it ain’t gonna bend, it’s gonna just blow through the water entirely, making it “not water.”

    In fact, there was a paper just recently put out by a group that created air waveguides (“fiber optic cables in air”) by first ionizing the air with a high-power laser pulse and then sending the signal down the resulting cavity.

    So the idea that you can just pump the energy density inside a dielectric to insane levels and it *stays* “dielectric” is nuts. We’ve now moved from “we need magic material that physics says can’t exist” to “we need a magic medium that physics says can’t exist.”

    The second problem’s more subtle: as far as I can tell, he’s entirely ignoring the non-T00 (energy density) components of the electromagnetic field tensor. You can’t just take matter and replace it with an electromagnetic field in gravity. You know this from black holes – there are 4 types of black hole metrics. Schwarzschild (non-rotating, non-charged), Reissner-Nordstrom (rotating, non-charged), Kerr (non-charged), and Kerr-Newman (rotating, charged), and they’re all different in terms of their behavior. Now, you might say “okay, let’s make it pure electric” but obviously the only things that carry charge also have mass. Also they hate being clumped together.

    So, overall, same problem – instead of a magic material, you need a magic medium.

    1. Also, just to clarify, it’s going to be impossible to find a medium that maintains that dielectric properties up to the point where it “bends spacetime.” Because the medium is just made up of matter that’s already *affected* by spacetime. If you get to the point where your energy density is so high that it will deflect a laser (for whatever reason!) it’s going to affect the electromagnetic interactions between the antifreeze molecules, which is what *causes* the dielectric properties in the first place.

  4. Perhaps it might be as simple as setting up additional interferometers around the experiment and subtracting them from the result. Time to freeze distil some screen wash and take apart some cat toys.

    1. Instrumentation will be improved until a phantom force is detected and publicity is secured for several decades among cold-fusion types until they find another wacky thing to pretend is real

  5. One big thing everybody ignores is that even if you can alter space by bending or compressing it, there’s no way to propogate the field that does the bending faster than light speed. Maybe you could establish a fixed tunnel, but no way for a free flying ship to use the tech even if they did have magic dust to use.

    1. The other side of it is, light seems to follow the curvature of space, so, if you’re only making little curves, with respect to your apparatus, it’ll curve back before you see it and you won’t be able to detect it.
      Perhaps, since light sticks to space so well,we should just coil up light into a photonic solenoid and pull it around like iron filings.

    2. Yes, there is. The whole way that Alcubierre drives work is that there’s no actual speed limit to spacetime itself. It’s the moving walkway effect. Humans might only be able to walk at ~2 mph, but if the walkway itself is moving, the human has no speed limit.

      Let me be clear: we *do* have evidence for faster than light travel. That’s the entire argument for inflation: if you look at the CMB, you see sections of space at the same temperature that were *way* too big for light to link them to the same temperature. The conclusion is that they weren’t too big, the universe just expanded massively faster than light.

      That’s obviously not helpful for space travel because *everything* expanded. You would just want to do a very localized section of space, which we have no idea if it’s possible. We have no idea it *isn’t*, mind you, because we know zippo about whatever caused inflation (or dark energy, which also is accelerating things).

      So in other words, if I was writing a science fiction book with space travel and wanted it to be believable, I’d say something like “the drive excited a Higgs bubble which created a localized inflation cascade.” Still gibberish, but reasonable gibberish.

      1. No, the Alcubierre concept is still crap because of what the top of this thread says: still requires things to violate speed of light for information to traverse the bubble. It’s not reasonable gibberish, it is just gibberish that references fictions which are currently trendy.

        1. “still requires things to violate speed of light for information to traverse the bubble.”

          This is just a creation/destruction problem, which is a really, really nasty problem from fundamental mathematics but totally trivial once you get experimental data. It’s entirely possible the creation problem’s fundamental (i.e. it takes unbounded energy to form) but also possible that it’s not.

          Basically, think of it like this: inflation (well, plus dark energy) caused our (reachable) Universe to essentially become completely isolated from the remainder, but there’s absolutely nothing in physics that makes that fundamentally true *infinitely* – at some point, the “remainder” of the universe could start coming back *at* us due to some vagaries of dark energy/inflation we don’t understand now.

          The key difficulty with both the Alcubierre solution and even the Lentz solution (which doesn’t violate energy conditions) is that we don’t know if it’s possible to create the stress-energy tensor which sets it up in the first place. If you work the problem and find something that can, then you experiment to understand the transitional phase.

          Hence the reason I said “inflation cascade” there – fundamentally, whatever caused inflation (and dark energy) *does have* the right overall effect to make an Alcubierre drive work. We just don’t know how (or if it’s possible!) to locally manipulate it. The “Higgs bubble” part was just because once dark energy’s figured out, it likely won’t be called “dark energy” anymore.

  6. The linked article talks about ‘gravitational waves’ and then suggest to detect those in the substance, which is not possible, but gravity waves however you can detect that way.
    There is a huge difference between the two and seeing this ‘science’ publication doesn’t seem to get that means you can just scoff at all of this. And if the actual people working on this also use the terms wrong I suggest defunding them immediately.

  7. Sounds like a lot of hype for a new fad. At least its not biomed. Or nuclular.

    The Kerr and Pockels effect will be what the laser measures. Probably already been done. And there are also papers comparing electric and acoustic reactance of space.
    “Molecular dynamics of poly(ethylene glycol)s studied by optical Kerr effect and Brillouin spectroscopy”

    1. Garage tinkerers have been inventing reactionless drives since time immemorial. From submarines with overpowered vibrator motors to totally unstructured RF experiments and floating silly putty filmed upside-down: It is a storied tradition.

      Writing a coffee-table history of these would be far more interesting than working on another drive

    2. This is Prof. Glenn, the subject of this article. Just to clarify, ethylene glycol has a property of having a complex dielectric constant at the frequency of interest. When the imaginary part is greater than the real part the mathematics suggest that the energy density requirement becomes positive (realizable). Furthermore, in the first experiments I want to show that we can artificially distort spacetime. The effective velocity need only be very small, therefore the energy density will not be as great. The interferometer will allow us to detect distortions on the order if nanometers.

  8. Hey, someone should give him the drop.


    “With the use of microwave-generated sound in a spherical flask of hot plasma, we achieved a gravity field that is 1,000 times stronger than Earth’s gravity.”

    On Earth’s surface, hot gas rises because gravity holds denser, colder gas closer to the planet’s center.”

  9. All this supposition is heading in the wrong direction. It is fairly common knowledge that faster than light speed gravel requires a whale falling from space towards a planet, reflecting on its existence.
    Oh … and a President with two heads.
    Don’t forget your towel.

  10. If you combine mathematics with fiction you can accomplish almost anything. And then again many say that reality is nothing but a dream. Let’s just keep on going, there is no limit, the Universe is infinite……………………..

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