Behind the Scenes With ‘Star Trek’ Science Advisor, Dr. Mohammed Noor

Dr. Mohamed Noor

Courtesy of Dr. Noor / Paramount Dr. Mohamed Noor and the scenes he consulted on.

Creating a television show or movie based on science must be difficult, especially in the modern era of special effects. Shows like “The Boys,” “The Book of Boba Fett,” and everything from Marvel and DC ignores the laws of physics to entertain. This is just one of the ways in which “Star Trek” is different. From the very beginning, the “Star Trek” Writer/Director’s Guide (also known as the show’s bible) detailed that Trek was going to be about “science fiction,” and there were stringent parameters to make this so.

Though Roddenberry wanted the shows to stay within the boundaries of science fiction, he also did not want the characters to get too bogged down in future-speak.

“The less you use, the better,” Roddenberry wrote for the third season’s bible. “We limit complex terminology as much as possible, use it only where necessary to maintain the flavor of the show and encourage believability.”

This balance between believable science and language that viewers at home can understand is something that “Star Trek” writers still face. In the 1960s and ’80s, scientists like Isaac Asimov and other big names gave Roddenberry notes and pointers about things like the “edge of the galaxy.” Today, Trek relies on the knowledge of Dr. Erin Macdonald, who writers turn for advice on astrophysics and aerospace. 

Noor on ‘The Main Viewer’

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When the script calls for a better understanding of biology and possible alien life, “Star Trek” writers turn to Dr. Mohamed Noor. His day job is the Interim Dean of Trinity College at Duke University, but in his spare time, he is an advisor to Trek. Because of that, Noor has become a celebrity in his own right. 

Noor has appeared on podcasts, live streams, and conventions and frequently hosts talks about science and what he does for Trek. That’s how Heavy was able to catch up with Noor on June 4, 2022, as he held a talk at AwesomeCon 2022 in Washington, D.C.

“I’m somebody who [is called if] they need some expertise in biology,” said Noor. “They’ll occasionally consult and then just have a short-term contract to help out with a particular project.”

Noor said that he got started in his role with “Star Trek” thanks to his friendship with actress Jayne Brook, who played Admiral Katrina Cornwell on “Discovery.” Brook, a Duke alumna, spoke at one of Noor’s classes, and she started asking him questions.

“I gave her a copy of my book, which is called ‘Live Long and Evolve,’ which has a lot of science and structure and specifically biology in ‘Star Trek,’” said Noor. “She asked me, ‘Have you ever consulted?’ I said, ‘No, I would love to!’ She connected me with the writers. One of the writers came to me with the showrunner and that’s how we then started.”

Noor said fans might recognize a project he worked on for “Discovery” Season 3 — the Burn. Fans may remember that the Burn was a reaction that caused the destruction of dilithium crystals across much of the galaxy. The lack of crystals caused a slowdown in communication and transportation among the worlds. Eventually, the origin of the Burn was determined to be a young Kelpian who screamed out in terror, which caused a chain reaction in the crystals. For that project, Noor worked with Macdonald.

Noor on Evolution

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“The question they asked us was, give us some basis [for the Burn] that doesn’t sound crazy,” said Noor. “But it already been sketched out, so those pieces had to be there. Since it involves a biology piece and a physics piece, we work together to talk about what actually could do this and insert like bits of dialogue and bits of context. We actually wrote an article in that then fleshed it out a little bit more in more detail.”

Noor said another problem he solved for “Discovery” writers was for Season 4. This was when Captain Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and the rest of the crew of Discovery needed to communicate with an alien species that did not use words. Species 10-C, as they were called, used pheromones and feelings, which was a first for “Star Trek.”

“They wanted to have a truly alien species, not something with just a forehead prosthetic,” said Noor. “They want the communication to be really different, where it’s not just a Universal Translator thing.”

“This idea of chemical communication is something that hasn’t really come up,” said Noor. “I proposed the idea of using hydrocarbons for it and worked with some of the VFX (visual effects) people on what that would actually look like.”

As the show aired, some fans compared the 10-C to the alien life featured in the 2016 film “Arrival.” Noor said there were just a few similarities.

The Burn

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“I suppose they rival each other in the sense that they were big, and there was difficulty in communicating,” said Noor. “But that was kind of the end of it — right? The details were completely different.”

Noor is excited to continue working with the creators of “Star Trek” and said that he’s living his dream. It turns out that Noor is a big Trekkie who has been watching since the 1970s.

“I mean, it’s so much fun working with the writers and showrunners and VFX people,” said Noor. “They’re so excited about science every time we chat. And it’s always humbling for me because they’ll say, ‘Wow, your job is so cool.’ They literally write ‘Star Trek,’ and you’re saying my job is cool?” 

“They have such an appreciation for the science, they’re so excited, and they really want to see it done right,” said Noor. “I love that aspect to it.”

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