Sat. Oct 1st, 2022
Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) is buried in adorable fluff balls in the classic 1967 episode,
enlarge Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) is buried in adorable fluff balls in the classic 1967 episode, “The Trouble with Tribbles,” on Star Trek: TOS

Paramount/CBS Television

Write this down to fun science articles we inexplicably missed last year. A group of students at the University of Leicester in the UK calculated the growth rate of the fictitious Star Trek critters known as tribbles. They published their results in a short paper in the university’s undergraduate Journal of Physics Special Topics, estimating how long it would take for enough tribbles to fill the USS. Company

First broadcast on December 29, 1967, the episode “The Trouble with Tribbles” was written by David Gerrold, then a 23-year-old college student in California. He originally saw it as a cautionary tale about ecological disaster — inspired in part by how quickly rabbits multiplied when they were first introduced to Australia in 1859, a region where they had no natural predators. However, during several rewrites, the tone evolved to include more humor – much to the dismay of ST:TOS creator Gene Roddenberry, who thought the episode had no gravitas. Roddenberry was ultimately proved wrong. The episode is often in the top ten best episodes of ST:TOSif not the entire franchise.

In the episode, the Company is tasked with guarding a shipment of “quadrotriticale” grain to Sherman’s Planet. While on shore leave, Lieutenant Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) receives a spinning ball of fluff called a Tribble from interstellar trader Cyrano Jones (Stanley Adams) and brings it aboard the ship. The tribble reproduces quickly, and its offspring reproduce in turn.

While the crew initially finds them cute, McCoy and Spock express concern that the critters will multiply so quickly that they will eat all the food available on board. Those fears prove justified when Kirk discovers that the tribbles are cramming into the quadrotritical grain stores they were supposed to guard. On the plus side, the Tribbles’ natural aversion to Klingons helps unmask a disguised Klingon aboard the ship. CompanyArne Darvin (Charlie Brill).

It’s a relatively simple calculation with an exponential formula, ideal for creative homework problems. In the episode, Spock estimates that each tribble (born pregnant) can give birth to ten offspring in 12 hours and puts the number of tribbles on board at 1,777,561 after just three days. The students assumed that Spock’s assessment was correct, and their calculation also assumed that no tribbles died. They also estimate that it is 18.4×10 . would last9 tribbles to completely fill the USS Company† Under those circumstances, they concluded that, given the exponential growth, it would take 4.5 days for Tribbles to completely fill the ship.

Of course, the tribbles in the episode don’t grow exponentially unchecked, instead they start dying out as they fed on contaminated grain, courtesy of the aforementioned undercover Klingon. That could justify a follow-up document. “Further calculation, including a ‘death term,’ could be done to find out how long it would take for the population to become extinct, if there were an unlimited supply of toxic grain,” the authors wrote.

By akfire1

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