<img src = "https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/tribbleTOP-800×533.jpg" alt = "Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) is buried in delightful lint balls the classic Episode of 1967, "The Trouble with Tribbles" Star Trek: Terms and Conditions, "/>
Enlarge /. Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) is buried in delightful lint balls in the 1967 classic episode "The Trouble with Tribbles" in Star Trek: TOS.
Paramount / CBS television
Chalk this into fun scientific papers that we inexplicably missed last year. A group of students at the University of Leicester in the UK calculated the growth rate of the fictional Star Trek animals known as tribbles. They published their results in a short article in the University's Journal of Physics Special Topics, estimating how long it would take for enough tribbles to fill the USS Enterprise.
The episode "The Trouble with Tribbles", first broadcast on December 29, 1967, was written by David Gerrold, a 23-year-old college student in California. He originally thought of it as a warning story of an ecological disaster – partly inspired by how quickly rabbits reproduced when they were first brought to Australia in 1859, a region where they had no natural predators. However, with several rewrites, the tone developed into more humor – much to the horror of ST: TOS inventor Gene Roddenberry, who believed that the episode Gravitas was missing. Roddenberry was ultimately proven wrong. The episode is often among the ten best episodes of ST: TOS, if not the entire franchise.
As a result, the Enterprise is accused of guarding a shipment of "Quadrotriticale" grain on Sherman's planet. Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) from interstellar dealer Cyrano Jones (Stanley Adams) purrs a purring fuzz ball and brings it aboard the ship. The tribble multiplies quickly and its offspring multiply again.
While the crew initially find them adorable, McCoy and Spock express concern that the animals will multiply so quickly that they eat all the food available on board. These fears prove to be justified when Kirk discovers that the Tribbles have eaten in the Quadrotriticale granaries that they were guarding. On a positive note, the Tribbles' natural aversion to Klingons helps expose a disguised Klingon aboard the Enterprise, Arne Darvin (Charlie Brill).
It is a relatively simple calculation with an exponential formula, ideal for creative homework problems. As a result, Spock estimates that each tribble (born pregnant) can give birth to ten offspring within 12 hours, and sets the number of tribbles on board to 1,777,561 after only three days. The students assumed that Spock's assessment was correct, and their calculation also assumed that no tribbles died. They also estimated that it would take 18.4 x 109 tribbles to completely fill the USS Enterprise. Under these conditions, they concluded that given the exponential growth, it would take 4.5 days for Tribbles to fill the ship completely.
Of course, the tribbles do not grow exponentially uncontrolled as a result, but start to die out because they have fed on contaminated grain, thanks to the undercover Klingon mentioned above. That could justify a follow-up paper. "Another calculation, including a death penalty, could be done to find out how long it would take for the population to die out if there were unlimited poisonous grains available," the authors wrote.