Most Sci-Fi has weapons, usually lots of them. Have you noticed they always seem to be energy weapons. The main reason is that they are relatively easy to do as special effects and they look different to our standard weapons - don't be fooled. We humans are very good at building weapons and modern projectile weapons are very formidable indeed. We are always pleased to see in Stargate that we fight the baddies using the good old P90 rather than just going for alien weapons.

What's an energy weapon? Essentially a gun that gives out energy in a concentrated beam. Energy can be in many forms, such as light, sound, heat etc and therefore an energy weapon could use any of these. A laser fires a concentrated beam of light and is very useful as the light can be reflected and that reflected light can contain lots of interesting information, e.g. lasers in DVD players etc. If you increase the power of the laser then it gets hotter and hotter until you can burn through sheets of steel. At the moment the technology does not exist to create a laser capable of burning through steel that would also fit in your hand, maybe one day it will.

Sound is an interesting one. When an explosive is fired, it's the blast wave that does all the damage. The blast wave is essentially a very powerful sound wave, again just the same as the laser the current level of technology is insufficient to create a hand-held weapon and would also be different to control, in terms of hitting a precise but small target.

What's the ultimate weapon? It's an easy one, the disintegration weapon. It was explained quite well in an episode of Dr Who, where the Daleks were planning to destroy the universe (as usual). In order to understand how the weapon could work you need to understand some particle physics. If you look at a wall, or a person for that matter, on the atomic level most of what you are looking at is empty space,as virtually all the mass of an atom sits in the nucleus and the atoms jiggle about generating the solid effect. The protons in the necleus are all positively charged and yet they stick together, like charges repell (like pushing to Norths together on a bar magnet) so why don't the proton just fly apart? The reason is that they are held together by an even stronger force which is very short range (that's why very large atoms are unstable and break up into smaller atoms giving off radiation). That powerful force is called the strong nuclear force. What the Daleks proposed was to turn it off. If that was possible the protons would fly away from each other and there would be no solid matter anymore. This technology does not exist and we are still a very long way away from a basic understanding of what the strong nuclear force is, so I wouldn't be too worried at the moment.

Another ultimate weapon that is much closer is bioweapons. We already have the technology to gentically modify organisms. It would not be a huge leap to try and genetically modify a bioweapon and that is why we have the Biological Weapons Convention.

What about real weapons and us as humans?

Since humans have been on Earth we have been designing and building weapons. We, as a species, continue to push for more advanced weapons as our level of technology increases. Is this a bad thing? In our view the answer is both a yes and a no

The "Yes" view

Everyone enjoys advanced technology, you're reading this on a computer, you may own a SatNav or smartphone. Defence research pays a huge dividend to society, it pushes the cutting edge of science so that defence science ultimately ends up in everyday use (obviously not weapons, but spin-off technologies).

For a country to be secure it needs to be strong, such as having a high economic output. A strong country also needs to be able to defend itself in what can sometimes be a hostile world. If a country needs to defend itself from potential agressors then it needs to understand the threat. In other words, a strong defence via a strong offensive programme.

The "No" view

Weapons have one purpose. They are designed to kill someone and that isn't morally right. That is it. The "Yes" view could only be allowed if there was no chance of weapons being given to extremists who actually want to use them. As this can't be assured, then surely the best route would be to stop designing and building them?




A comprehensive encyclopedia of weapons



"The Illustrated History of Weaponry: From Flint Axes to Automatic Weapons" is a comprehensive look at the often deadly, sometimes surprising, always fascinating tools of battle. Extraordinary weapons from around the world, some never before photographed, are collected in this one-of-a-kind volume.