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Waking up in an alternate reality, Harry Kim, an officer aboard the starship USS Voyager, creates a distortion in the space-time continuum with a beam of polarons. Sounds like science fiction? Well, yes, but only in part.

Star Trek used to love taking the names of real quasiparticles and ascribing magical properties to them,” said Douglas Natelson, a physicist at Rice University in Texas whose job involves creating actual quasiparticles with near-magical properties.

Quasiparticles are kind of particles. Barred entry from the exclusive club of 17 “fundamental” particles that are thought to be the building blocks of all material reality, quasiparticles emerge out of the complicated interactions between huge numbers of those fundamental particles. Physicists can take a solid, liquid or plasma made of a vast number of particles, subject it to extreme temperatures and pressures, and describe the resulting system as a few robust, particlelike entities. The emerging quasiparticles can be quite stable with well-defined properties like mass and charge.

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