(covers information from several alternate timelines)
- Food slot and food service redirects here, you may also be looking for a food synthesizer.
A replicator or molecular synthesizer was a device that used matter-energy conversion technology to dematerialize quantities of matter and then rematerialize that matter in another form. (TNG: "Lonely Among Us") It was also capable of inverting its function, thus disposing of leftovers and dishes. (DS9: "Hard Time", "The Assignment", "The Ascent"; VOY: "Memorial") Items thus disposed of served to fuel the replicator, and would later be reconstituted as other objects. (VOY: "Year of Hell")
Replicators were capable of producing something as fresh and tasty as non-replicated foodstuffs, inorganically materialized out of patterns used by the transporters. (TNG: "Lonely Among Us") Most people found replicated foods and drinks to taste exactly the same as "real" food, although some people claimed to be able to tell the difference. Furthermore, Federation replicators could be programmed to produce foodstuffs of acceptable "nutritional value". (TNG: "The Price", "Sins of the Father", "The Wounded", "Relics"; DS9: "In the Pale Moonlight", "You Are Cordially Invited")
On Starfleet vessels, replicators produced synthehol versions of alcoholic drinks by default, but they could easily be manually readjusted through their control panel to make real alcohol instead. (TNG: "Up The Long Ladder")
In addition to foodstuffs, replicators could be used for replicating machine parts, clothing, or other objects. Although clothing could be replicated for general wear, replicators would not allow non-Starfleet crew members to replicate official Starfleet uniforms. Outgrown clothing could be returned to the replicator for recycling. Industrial replicators could even be used to replicate heavier machine parts. (TNG: "The Game"; DS9: "For the Cause"; VOY: "Caretaker", "Phage", "Mortal Coil")
On Starfleet installations and starships, if a person in custody was confined to quarters, it was standard policy to disable the replicators that the person had access to in order to ensure that a weapon could not be replicated. (DS9: "Inquisition"; VOY: "Counterpoint")
Some alien replication technology was used to create organic material, such as when the D'Arsay archive created living snakes. The "Allegiance" aliens were also able to create living things, as in the case of Jean-Luc Picard's imposter, for which the replicators were even able to recreate the dendritic connections where memory was stored. (TNG: "Masks", "Allegiance")
While only a genetronic replicator could fully replicate actual organs for use in medical transplants, (TNG: "Ethics") by 2371, standard Starfleet replicator technology was theoretically capable of creating artificial substitutes for natural organs for use in transplants. However, this required the system to have some understanding of the organs required; for example, it was impossible to use a replicator to create a set of Talaxian lungs, as Talaxian physiology included a complex series of neural links between the lungs and the rest of the body that replicators were unable to duplicate exactly. (VOY: "Phage")
Some citizens of the Federation, such as Robert Picard, refused to use replicators. Picard was opposed to their use and would not allow them on his property. (TNG: "Family") Similar but less extreme mindsets were not uncommon, and both Miles O'Brien's mother as well as Joseph Sisko raised their respective children believing that replicated food was less nutritious or generally "lacking". (TNG: "The Wounded"; DS9: "Homefront")
In 2366, Deanna Troi expressed her desire to the computer to have a "real" chocolate sundae. The computer wished for her to define "real in context", to which Troi explained, "Real. Not one of your perfectly synthesized, ingeniously enhanced imitations. I would like real chocolate ice cream, real whipped cream..." before she was interrupted by the computer explained that "[t]his unit is programmed to provide sources of acceptable nutritional value. Your request does not fall within current guidelines. Please indicate whether you wish to override the specified program?" (TNG: "The Price")
History and notable uses
One of the first replicators seen by Humans was the one seen by the crew of Enterprise when they had their ship repaired in a mysterious automated repair station. Prior to this, T'Pol had once saw a similar device on a Tarkalean vessel that was capable of replicating almost any inanimate object. Until this time, the most comparable technology aboard 22nd century starships were protein resequencers, which had limited capabilities compared to later technologies. (ENT: "Dead Stop"; ENT: "Fight or Flight", "Oasis")
In the 23rd century, the United Federation of Planets had not yet perfected replicator technology for ships but replicators already existed in industrial sites. Replicator technology was, however, in use by The Assigners, and the Beta 5 computer utilized replicator technology to manufacture several false identity cards for use by Gary Seven. (TOS: "Assignment: Earth") Starships of this time period were equipped with food synthesizers. This was a step forward, but did not achieve the quality and sophistication of the 24th century replicator. Replicator technology was not yet employed on starships as late as 2293. (TOS: "The Naked Time", "The Trouble with Tribbles"; VOY: "Flashback")
24th century Federation starships were commonly equipped with replicators because they allowed for a wide variety of foods and beverages to be served to crew members and also allowed for replication of other objects. The selection was limited only by the software and the number of options that had been programmed. (TNG: "The Neutral Zone", "The Defector", "Sins of the Father", "All Good Things..."; DS9: "Trials and Tribble-ations"; VOY: "Caretaker", "Phage", "Twisted")
As of 2367, Galaxy-class starships were equipped with a replicating center containing several replicator terminals resembling miniature transporter pads at which crew members could order items. Lieutenant Worf and Lieutenant Commander Data shopped the USS Enterprise-D's replicating center for a wedding present for Miles and Keiko O'Brien. (TNG: "Data's Day")
On the Promenade of the Federation space station Deep Space 9, the Replimat provided a casual location for inhabitants to enjoy a meal or beverage courtesy of a bank of replicators located along one of its walls. (DS9: "Emissary")
Replicators in the Delta Quadrant
"Nothing special. Date with a replicator."
"Cancel it, that's an order."
After the USS Voyager was pulled to the Delta Quadrant in 2371, an energy crisis occurred several weeks into the journey back to the Alpha Quadrant, and Janeway ordered replicator usage to be rationed in order to conserve power for other key systems. These replicator rations became a type of currency among its crew. (VOY: "The Cloud")
Later that year, it became very clear that replicator technology was unknown to the indigenous people of the region around the Ocampan homeworld. The Kazon, in particular, repeatedly tried to obtain this technology, as did other races. Captain Janeway feared that if this technology was acquired by a civilization before it was ready, disastrous consequences could ensue. For this reason, and because of the Prime Directive, Janeway refused to give up this technology at any price. (VOY: "State of Flux") By 2377, however, the crew of Voyager had shared replicators to help people feed and clothe themselves a number of times. (VOY: "Flesh and Blood") In contrast, the Ferengi Arridor and Kol used a portable replicator to pass themselves off as the Great Sages of the Takarians. (VOY: "False Profits")
In 2374 in the alternate timeline known as the Year of Hell, the replicator system on Voyager was heavily damaged by attacks from Krenim warships, forcing the crew to go to emergency rations. (VOY: "Year of Hell")
In 2378, the young Q manipulated a replicator to tell Janeway "Make it yourself" when she asked it for coffee. (VOY: "Q2") Janeway herself had a tense relationship with her personal replicator. After it burned a pot roast, not the first time it had done so, she told Commander Chakotay that she had once referred to it as a "glorified toaster" and it had never forgiven her. (VOY: "Shattered")
- Matter synthesizer
- Industrial replicator
- Class 4 industrial replicator
- Protein resequencer
- Matter-energy conversion matrix
The idea of replicators was unpopular with the writers of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. Ira Steven Behr commented: "I'd like to lose the replicators. They're my least favorite thing in Star Trek. A society that uses replicators is a doomed, finished society." (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion) Ronald D. Moore added that "Replicators are the worst thing ever. Destroys storytelling all the time. They mean there's no value to anything. Nothing has value in the universe if you can just replicate everything, so all that goes away. Nothing is unique; if you break something, you can just make another one. If something breaks on the ship, it's "Oh, no big deal, Geordie can just go down to engineering and make another doozywhatsit." Or they go to a planet and that planet needed something: "Oh, hey, let's make them what they need!" We just hated it and tried to forget about it as much as possible."