Inspired by Star Trek: Dr. Matthew Szydagis and His Journey Into Dark Matter

William Shatner and Dr. Matthew Szydagis

Photo illustration by Kevin H. Knuth, Ph.D. William Shatner and Dr. Matthew Szydagis

Interviews with the writers and actors who make the “Star Trek Universe” often cite that many people were inspired to get into the sciences after watching the show as a child. Sometimes, if they found their way into the medical field, they’ll name Gates McFadden or DeForest Kelley as part of their inspiration to become a doctor

In 2015, NASA astronaut Terry Virts made his feelings known. He took a photo of himself making the famous Vulcan hand gesture while aboard the International Space Station. Virts did this in honor of Leonard Nimoy’s death, which was recent at the time. The European Space Agency’s Jana Mulacova also says that “Star Trek” was a significant influence on her growing up. 

While Virts served as a commander of the ISS, and Mulacova uses her skills to search for anomalies on space missions, they are working on technologies that are cutting edge for the present day. Heavy spoke with Dr. Matthew Szydagis, who is working to understand some of the universe’s secrets and pave the way for humanity’s future role in space.

Dr. Szydagis on Time Travel

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He’s involved with the UAPx team, which investigated the “Tic-Tac” UFO phenomenon. He is working on projects designed to detect Dark Matter, and he said that it all started with “Star Trek.” 

“It’s the reason why I’m a scientist, actually,” said Szydagis. “I’m a little too young for ‘The Original Series.’ But I grew up watching ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation.’ And my favorite character was Lieutenant Commander Data (Brent Spiner).”

“And, and I know now retroactively, he’s very much based on the character of Spock,” said Szydagis. “I had to catch up on ‘The Original Series’ much later when I could find it. I really felt an incredible connection to Data, who was, as you know, the science officer.”

Szydagis said that he’s been enjoying “Star Trek” ever since and is watching the final few episodes of “Star Trek: Picard,” Season 2, with his wife. Though he does enjoy Trek for the storylines, characters, and technologies presented, he did mention that one thing would have changed everything for Captain Janeway and her U.S.S. Voyager.

“If I were Captain Janeway, I would just turn off the warp drive and use impulse engines to go home,” said Szydagis. “You might think that’s crazy [as it would] take forever. No! Because of relativistic time dilation.”

Szydagis’ solution means that time passes more slowly to a person (or Starfleet crew) moving through space. That would have Janeway, Tuvok, and the rest of the Voyager crew aging much slower than everyone on Earth. 

“Then, of course, when they got home, all the relatives and friends were dead because it’s been tens of thousands of years,” said Szydagis. “But then, you just use Captain Kirk’s slingshot maneuver from ‘The Original Series,’ and then you’re back to your own time!”

Szydagis’ solution, called “smart aleck,” is based on the relativistic time dilation. That is something that many writers don’t touch on when creating stories and movies about outer space.

“The thing that everyone forgets, especially when it comes to discussions of alien civilizations, [is that] you don’t need faster than light travel,” said Szydagis. “As light travels, it’s only beneficial if you want to get back home. “But that’s kind of not necessary. It’s kind of icing on the cake. Because who cares about going back home? There’s an entire universe out there to explore.”

Dr. Matthew Szydagis: Are we alone in the universe?

Dr. Matthew Szydagis: Are we alone in the universe?Dr. Matthew Szydagis and I had a great conversation recently about UAPs and why he believes more funds need to be invested in research in this field. I wanted to give you the full length version of our conversation. Dr. Matthew Szydagis is an Assistant Professor at the University at Albany SUNY studying experimental particle…2021-08-16T17:19:40Z

While science fiction might get a lot wrong, Szydagis said that there were quite a few things that the writers of “Star Trek” got right.

“When I was watching ‘Star Trek: Voyager,’ I remember they asked why there’s another M class, planet again and again and again,” said Szydagis. “And now, based on the astronomical data, we have found, shockingly, ‘Star Trek’ wasn’t optimistic enough. There are just planets everywhere.” 

“And you know, the so-called fictional M class, which are [essentially] Earth-like planets, appear to be pretty common,” said Szydagis. “They’re probably trillions of them in our galaxy alone.”

So when others bet that humanity is the only intelligent species in the galaxy, Szydagis said that the odds say otherwise. 

“I think that even though biological life is very hard to form, probably based on our current knowledge of biology if you multiply the probability of life forming times the number of planets out there, I think that the probability that we’re alone is laughable,” said Szydagis.

‘Tear In The Sky’

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Szydagis currently works at the University at Albany, where he teaches multiple physics courses.

Another high-profile person who might agree with that hypothesis is William Shatner. The original “Star Trek” captain and, most recently, space tourist worked with Szydagis and the UAPx team on “The Tear In The Sky Documentary.” The film, produced by Caroline Cory, followed a team of experts who attempted to capture evidence on the “Tic-Tac” craft and filmed some even stranger phenomena. Szydagis said that working alongside the legendary actor was a thrill, but Shatner’s knowledge impressed everyone involved.

“He was great,” said Szydagis. “Actually, the most amazing thing that blew me away learning about him [was] his view on life. He’s not even a scientist, and yet he was really skeptical and always trying to find the mundane explanation, even for the craziest things we saw. I appreciated that it really surprised me.”

The Apollo Lunar Buggy

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Szydagis said that to get to the next level of scientific understanding means that governments and nations must continue to fund research — for research’s sake. Luckily, Szydagis is involved in one of those big projects, the search for Dark Matter. Szydagis serves with the Lux-Zeplin project in South Dakota, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, and is designed to probe into what Dark Matter is all about. 

Presently, there are no commercial or practical applications for Dark Matter. Still, in 50 to 100 years, this research could lead to incredible breakthroughs that humanity cannot fathom at this time, much like how engineers created regenerative brakes for the Apollo Lunar Buggy in the 1960s. That same technology is the basis for how hybrid and electric vehicles regain energy when they come to a stop. It’s not a far leap to say that there would be no Tesla without the Apollo program. 

Szydagis said that this type of research must continue, especially if humanity expects to tackle problems like Climate Change or other unknown future dilemmas. 

“The only goal [of that kind of research] is the expanding of your horizons,” said Szydagis. “Just like Q says to Captain Picard in ‘All Good Things…’ about expanding horizons, it’s about expanding the horizons of our knowledge.”

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