Let’s talk about… Science Officers

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We’ve had a look at the “Number Ones” of Star Trek already. We talked about the Captains a bit. About the Doctors. As a scientist myself, I always had a special love for Star Trek’s science officers.

So let’s start from the very beginning. “Enterprise” introduces Subcommander T’Pol of Vulcan descent as both First Officer and Science Officer of the Enterprise. Vulcans generally are – and you all know that – logical to the core. A crucial trait for any scientist. From my experience, it is logic as well as industriousness that make a good scientist. “Brilliant” most often requires “only” a bit of luck. Unfortunately, the scientific aspect of T’Pol’s job, often gets lost during the series. The plot revolves around her duties as First Officer and about her struggle with her rational, logic nature against her breakdown during her drug abuse. The character we see doing actual science in Enterprise is Dr. Phlox.

Later, during “The original series”, Mr Spock fills the roles as First Officer as well as Science Officer. Obviously, many of Spock’s characteristics, many of the plots around Spock have been the role model for Enterprise’s T’Pol. The struggles between his vulcan and his human nature, his vast duties as First Officer – had left very little time for real “Science” plots. We see Spock do Science on a rather casual basis, for example, often Spock researches irrational human behaviour.

You could argue that there is a trend in Star Trek. Being a scientist doesn’t really take up much time, right? So you might as well fulfill the full-time job of a First Officer AND a Science Officer at the same time.

In “The next Generation” we reach Star Trek’s scientific low. There isn’t a “chief” science officer. Occasionally Data does take on duties of a science officer, but in fact… there isn’t “the” science officer. If you take a closer look into TNG, you will see “science” represented however. Captain Picard is a hobby archeologist for example. Keiko O’Brian (who doesn’t play an important part in the series yet) is a Botanist. And yes, from time to time, Data does scientific research. The research being done during TNG however, is happening in the Engineering Department. Stepping into Scotty’s shoes was a hard task, and so we see a -lot- of research happening between Data, Geordie La Forge and Wesley Crusher. In fact, Wesley is the closest to the ideals of a scientist.

On Deep Space 9 Jadzia Dax fills the role of the Science Officer. And – surprise – this is her “only” role. Until you have a closer look. Jadzia is a Trill. Which means she is an age-old being, “Dax”, living in symbiosis with Jadzia. This makes for a vast number of past and present relationships that keep Jadzia busy. She is Sisko’s trusted advisor, and generally fulfills a rather vast number of duties. I like her role, a lot. Jadzia is curious and outgoing. She likes to take risks, and she isn’t afraid of getting her hands dirty. And she’s got enough “nerd” inside to fill the role of the Science Officer.

In Voyager, Ensign Samantha Wildman is Science Officer, and not one of the prominent characters. She is good friends with Neelix, remembered for tthe drama around the birth of her daughter Naomi. Later in the series, Icheb is introduced. He is of Brunali descent and has been assimilated by the Borg. On board of the Voyager Icheb is working in the Astrometrics department. Of course his struggle to reintegrate into “normal” society, his interactions with Seven of Nine, his “deassimilation” are the key parts of his role. Again it is the medical department doing most of the scientific work. The Doctor and Kes are the ones doing experiments to find medical cures.

Now, why is “Science” seemingly so underrepresented in Star Trek – a “Science” Fiction series? I think the name of the genre already answers the question. Everything in Star Trek is a vision of the future. The creators have gone above and beyond what was “imaginable” in terms of scientific progress in their time. How could they offer a vision of “Science” in a future that far away? Medical science always has been part of “normal” people’s experience. So most often the Doctors in Star Trek fulfill the role of the scientific researcher, whereas the Science Officers are more like the pioneers exploring Earth in the 19th century. They go where no man has gone before, and explore new planets, cultures and civilizations. Science actually can be found everywhere in Star Trek. And that does placate my irritation about no actual “Scientist” being part of the Star Trek universe.

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Dani Gutsch
Dani studied human biologies and majored in biochemistry, microbiology and tumor pharmacology. In 2008 she started working as a scientific assistant for Marburg University as well as starting her then "secret" career as an artist. Since 2012 she is fully working as an self-employed medieval bathing maiden, firedancer, stilts-walker, musician and writer.