Wednesday, 23 February 2005 10:05 PM -0800
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"How does the transporter work?"
While there is no absolute canonical answer, we can piece one together from various clues, that fits nearly everything seen on-screen, and in the TNG Tech Manual.
We have some evidence of the inner workings of transporters, but not much. They employ Heisenberg compensators, pattern buffers, phase transition coils, Biofilters, matter streams, confinement beams, and matter-energy converters, and phased matter. As for what they do, we know that you are conscious during transport (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, "Realm of Fear" [TNG]), but can also be held in stasis ("Day of the Dove" [TOS], "Relics" [TNG]). Further, while in transport, you appear whole to yourself.
I hypothesize that the Annular Confinement Beam first locks onto, then disassembles the subject into phased matter, via the phase transition coils, causing it to take on a very energy-like state somewhat akin to plasma, called phased matter. The matter stream is then fed into the pattern buffer, piped through wave-guide conduits to one of the beam emitters on the hull of the starship, and then relayed to a point on the ground where the ACB reconstructs the subject.
"Excuse me, Annular Confinement Beam?"
Yes. The ACB is where the phrase "Beam me up, Scotty!" comes from. The beam serves two purposes: The first is to maintain a "lock" on the subject, so the transporter knows what to beam out, and what to leave behind. The second purpose is to do the actual transporting, whilst keeping the subject in one piece subjectively.
"How does the transporter know what to take and what to leave?"
In "The Enterprise Incident" [TOS], the ship's scanners are able to differentiate a Vulcan from all of the Romulans aboard another ship. They are very sensitive, but also take a great deal of time. In many episodes, this sensitivity is not used. However, to scan at that level of resolution would take perhaps far longer than the crew has.
In any case, the ACB generators are able to scan the target subject, and either using some best-guessing or asking the Transporter Chief, decide what should be transported with the subject.
As one r.a.st.tech poster put it, "One to beam up, hold the bunny slippers." :)
"So what is this pattern thing?"
The pattern buffer is a cyclotron-like tank (TNG:TM) which holds the whirling matrix of phased matter in the ACB while the subject is beamed out and beamed in. In order to keep track of where every part of the subject is, the computer constructs a pattern to keep track of what bits of the stream end up where.
An analogy would be the [left->right->left&down]->top pattern a television electron gun follows to paint a picture on the phosphors of the screen. The television (we're assuming an old analog no-frills model) doesn't know and can't possibly store the information needed to construct a one-hour program, but it has a pattern, and uses a modulated matter (electron) stream to do it.
In "Lonely Among Us" [TNG], Picard is recovered from being beamed away as pure energy. The computer is able to reconstruct Picard by using the pattern it had stored, working with the phased matter stream that Picard's energy state itself supplied. Since the pattern was pre-transport, the reformed Picard had no memories of the excursion.
Similar to this is the transporter ID trace, which is kept for verification purposes for a long time after transport. This is probably a highly compressed sample of the pattern, plus the name of the transportee, logs of the transport cycle, etc. (TNG "Data's Day".)
"So what is a Heisenberg Compensator?"
As Mike Okuda said when asked by Time (28 Nov 1994), "How do the Heisenberg compensators work ?" "They work just fine, thank you." [Benjamin Chee]
In physics, the Heisenberg Principle states that you cannot know both the position of a subatomic particle and its momentum to a precise degree. The more you know about one, the less you know can about the other.
This comes into play when you consider that to know where everything is coming from and going to, you pretty much have to know near-exactly where everything is. By the 24th century, evidently, that's no longer a problem. The Heisenberg Compensators are probably used to keep everything in the matter stream exactly where it should be.
Note that this doesn't mean that the Heisenberg Compensators tell you the vital statistics of the particle; they could very well just compensate for not knowing them and keep the system working just fine, thank you.
"How does that Biofilter gadget work?"
The Biofilter is a good clue as to how the transport patterns work. The filter looks for elements of the pattern which aren't found in normal beings/equipment, or those of known viruses and bacteria. It can simply erase those parts of the pattern, and those parts of the matter stream won't beam back in.
In "Unnatural Selection" [TNG], Pulaski is restored from an aged state by the use of the Biofilter. If Pulaski's altered DNA could be tagged as unwanted, the pattern could be tweaked to restore the DNA (its pretty much all the same molecules anyway, just shuffle some base-pairs around). As for her recovering instantly... well, it's a TV show.
"What is pattern degradation?"
The pattern is probably highly complex. Pattern degradation occurs because the Annular Confinement Beams aren't perfect, even with the help of the Heisenberg Compensators. The matter stream comes out of alignment with the computer's pattern predictions for where things should be. Obviously, this is a bad thing.
According to the TNG Tech Manual, a subject can be suspended in transport for up to 420 seconds before the degradation is too severe to attempt to reform the transportee. They push close to this limit in "Realm of Fear".
In "Relics" [TNG], we see that by keeping the transport controller locked in a diagnostic loop, pattern degradation is kept to a minimum - even with an old-style transporter, only 0.003% of the pattern was lost after 75 years in stasis.
In "Realm of Fear" [TNG], the most extraordinary development is the reconstruction of the lost crew, and their appearance as the giant slugs while in transport. I suspect that the phased-matter "bugs" which reside in the plasma environment act as a natural ACB, maintaining the pattern of those "lost" in transport. The computer is able to use the Biofilter to rebuild the patterns and restore the individuals.
"Where are you during transport?"
Inside the ACB. "Realm of Fear" [TNG] shows what it looks like - lots of blue and silver sparkles. If you mean from an outside observer's point of view, you're either in one of the pattern buffers, or in transit to the beaming coordinates. In "The Gamesters of Triskelion" [TOS], Kirk and crew are lost during transport. In the technobabble that follows, Spock and McCoy discuss whether recovering the lost crewmembers from the transport beam, thought to be zipping away from the Enterprise, is possible. This means that if the beam was somehow suspended, a smart computer could reconstruct the pattern and beam you back in. This might be what happened in "Realm of Fear" [TNG]. If the ACB environment is similar to a plasma field, the bugs could act as stabilizers. Long shot, but hey.
"So was Scotty conscious for 75 years?" ("Relics" [TNG])
Nope, or he would have starved - if your brain is working, your heart must be pumping blood, and it needs energy from somewhere. There are three possibilities for how this was accomplished:
1) All transporters have an optional "stasis" switch, that locks the pattern of the subject during transport. In other words, they are frozen on a quantum level.
2) Old-style transporters, as seen in TOS, always transported the subject under stasis. From watching the show, we can see the two stages in a bream-out. First, a sparkly pattern appears over the chest of the subject, and spreads to cover them. They are sometimes seen to move during this process. Then they start to have these yellow blobs appear as they fade out. They don't move during this second stage. We can speculate that there's a stasis field employed for some reason (technological limitations, safety, etc) during the actual transport stage with old technology. This style of transporter was present on the Jenolan ("Relics"), but is now obsolete.
3) Putting the transport controller in a diagnostic loop imposes stasis on the subject, as a byproduct of the process by which degradation is minimized.
Choice (3) is the most appealing to me.
"What happens to the air when you beam in or beam out?"
It is likely that during the beam-out process, air simply diffuses into the space previously occupied by the subject under transport. This happens slowly enough that there would be no pop, or any other sound, except perhaps a small hum or tinkling noise, depending on the dynamics of air interacting with the ACB.
As for beaming in, the ACB lock on the target site probably gives the air a gentle "shove" out of the way, again with minimal noise. In the movies, we do see the beam sweep outwards before the subject materializes.
"Why do people who are sitting end when beamed out end up standing when beamed in?" ("Tomorrow is Yesterday" [TOS])
Something similar happened in "Bloodlines" [TNG] when Picard's "son" was beamed off a cliff face and ended up standing on the transporter pad. This implies that either the transporter can rearrange the various components of your body, which implies that it has a deep knowledge of biology (and this isn't supported), or that whilst in transport, some sort of force field "nudges" the transportee into an appropriate body position. So if you beam from the smooth transporter pad to bumpy "Planet Hell", the surface you feel under your feet while in transport distorts; you have time to adjust your balance before you materialize. (This has been suggested a number of times on rec.arts.startrek.tech, most recently by Ron Klapperich.)
"How can you transport without a transporter at the receiving end?"
According to the TNG Tech Manual, the Enterprise hull sports emitter array pads at various sites on its surface. They utilize "long-range virtual-focus molecular imaging scanners" to handle remote disassembly of the subject, and facilitate reassembly. The ACB is tightly focused onto the target area from the ship. This is limited - in the TNG era, 40,000 km is the safe range for transport.
"So why in TOS episodes/classic films did they beam from transporter room to transporter room?"
Intra-ship transport in the TOS era was not very reliable. ("Day of the Dove" [TOS]) Likely, when two compatible transport systems were available, the surface emitters could "interlock", and the pattern buffers would synchronize. One transport system would handle the dematerialization, and hand off the ACB to the receiving end for the rematerialization. This is much safer and likely requires less energy, and can be used to get around certain environmental difficulties. ("Realm of Fear" [TNG])
"What happened at the start of Star Trek: The Motion Picture then, if it's so safe?"
When the power on the receiving end of the transport failed, the transport computer on the Enterprise was unable to maintain the pattern integrity of the matter stream. This is akin to catastrophic degradation of the pattern. Kirk said "Boost your matter gain, we need more signal!" - perhaps indicating that the ACB could have been used to reconstruct the pattern. In any case, the hand-off appeared to have been nearly complete when the transportees began reforming on the pad. Since the Enterprise could not handle the transport, the matter stream was sent back to Starfleet HQ, in the hopes that enough of the pattern remained in the ACB to reconstruct them at the sending site. It wasn't, and the subjects died shortly thereafter.
"And why can't Trills be transported?" ("The Host" [TNG])
Odan said that transport would kill him. However, in "The Alternate" [DS9], Dax is transported by a Federation transporter (aboard the Runabout), and suffers no ill effects. Since then she's been transported many times. There are a few possibilities.
The first is that Odan did not wish to reveal that he was a host/symbiont pair, perhaps because the knowledge would disrupt the negotiations, lead to suspicion, or because all Trill were keeping their symbiont nature a secret at the time.
The second is that, not knowing that Trill are a joined species, the Biofilter might identify the slug part as a parasite and delete the pattern, killing both the host and the symbiont. If this is true, then simply by turning off/adjusting the Biofilter, Trills can transport like anyone else. Surely, once the unique nature of the Trill was revealed, the all Federation Biofilters would be reprogrammed to ignore the symbiont.
The third is that some Trill symbionts would be damaged by the transport process, and others wouldn't be. This is proposed in the Encyclopedia. Another possibility is that the link in an injured Trill (host or symbiont) is susceptible to damage during transport.
"Can you transport through subspace?"
In "Data's Day" [TNG], the use of a subspace carrier wave was mentioned as the method by which the transporter beam propagates.
In "Bloodlines" [TNG], Bok has a subspace transporter, a technology which was researched but later abandoned by the Federation. The range is at least 300 billion kilometers, and at most several light years and the subject is put into a state of molecular flux. Doesn't sound healthy. How is this different than normal transport? Probably just a deeper level of subspace.
In "The High Ground" [TNG], transporting through folded space using a subspace field coil made for instant, untraceable transports. The only problem is that it causes slow, irreversible genetic damage to the transport subject. It is a cumulative effect: one or two transports would be harmless, but dozens or hundreds are fatal. The Federation experimented with such technology in the 23rd Century, so this may be what Bok was using as well. (Joseph M. Osborne)
"Why can't you be transported through shields?"
If you could be transported through shields, they'd be pretty lousy shields. Just transport a bomb or boarding party over.
Just a thought here. Says in the TNG Tech Manual that phasers may be fired one-way through the ship's own shields due to EM polarization (whatever that means). If this holds true for other forms of wavicle energy, then one might be able to transport out one-way through shields, too.
Benjamin points out that in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, Klingons transport while their Bird of Prey is cloaked, yet in "The Search, Part 1" [DS9] the Defiant has to decloak to transport.
Greg Moseley suggests that the differences between the Klingon and Romulan cloaking devices may be responsible for the discrepancy; the Defiant cloak is on loan from the Romulans in return for information about the Gamma Quadrant.
Benjamin adds that in "The Die Is Cast" [DS9] a Romulan ship decloaks on top of a runabout before it can beam the occupants aboard. But in "The Way of the Warrior" [DS9] an entire fleet of Klingon ships stays cloaked until the battle warms up.
And finally, more wisdom from Benjamin:
One more point - the Klingon clunker in Generations had to decloak before it could beam Soran aboard, didn't it ? We never really were told why nor do we have much to conjecture from, but this is indeed an exception to the rule. In a mail to Mike Okuda, he also admitted that they never really kept track of the cloaks - might have been coincidence all the way up till Generations.
"But what about the time O'Brien used the shield frequencies..." ("The Wounded" [TNG])
Shields must allow some energy through to allow sensors to operate. To be safe, these frequencies are cycled, allowing sensor windows. By knowing the shield cycles, and the right frequencies, it is be possible to adjust the transporter to work at those few open frequencies, and slip past the shields.
Of course, if the destination ship detects you trying to beam through, they can alter the shield frequencies and end the transport suddenly, with rather messy results.
"What about in "Relics" [TNG] - they didn't do anything special!"
One would imagine that shield and transporter technologies are in a constant development race, as sensors and cloaks are. The "enemy" is always trying to figure out a way to transport through your shields, and thus you must always be trying to improve your shields to block this. Hence, any 70-year-old shields, like those on the Jenolan, would be practically transparent to modern transporters.
Alternately, Geordi and Scotty knew that the Enterprise would have to beam them off the ship, and turned off the "transport blocking" frequencies in the shields.
"Could surgery be performed with a transporter?"
It all depends on the surgery. For example - could I suspend you in transport, reform the pattern so that your arm is no longer broken, your skin is no longer cut, etc? Yes. But in sickbay they already have machines which do it near-instantly, and don't take the massive resources of the transporter.
For such things as removing a tumor, you must consider what replaces the object being transported away. In all likelihood, a vacuum. Having a small vacuum appear inside you body is probably more deadly than the tumor was in the first place. It has been suggested that you could synchronize two ACBs and beam in a saline solution in place of the tumor you are transporting out, but again, why bother? There are already medical devices which probably use micro-transporter technology to effect the surgery.
In "Deadlock" [VOY], a baby (Naomi Wildman) was transported out of its mother when there were complications during delivery - so apparently this sort of thing is performed in emergency situations when the normal medical resources are inadequate for the task. (Thanks to Eur van Andel for pointing that out.)
"What about souls?"
Heh. Well, if you've already decided that Star Trek transporters and souls don't get along, then accept that your position has been made abundantly clear in the past, and don't bother to follow-up. Souls aren't precluded by transporters, they just require that somehow, souls can (1) "tag along" with the physical body through transport, (2) stay in stasis along with a body, and (3) be duplicated. Since there isn't (and many maintain, there can't be) any way of analyzing this hypothetical "soul", it makes little sense to argue about what it can and cannot do.
"Can you transport while in Warp?"
Yes. According to the TM and "Best of Both Worlds, Part II", if you're in Warp you can transport as long as you are both at the same Warp value. The TM says "integral warp value", but in BOBW2 they were chasing the Borg ship at, I believe, warp 9.6 or something similar.
H. Peter Anvin offers:
I think the intent of the phrase "integral warp value" means anything with the same integer number, i.e. 8 <= warp < 9; so in BOBW2 the big E would only have had to exceed Warp 9 in order to make this possible. The TM makes it abundantly clear that a transition occurs at integral warp factors (and we deduce that to be the reason the warp scale changed between TOS and TNG) so I think it makes a lot of sense.
Possible. However, doesn't O'Brien say "Matching warp velocities for transport" or something quite similar? They'd have to be going at nearly the same velocity already to keep up with the Borg ship, so matching velocities could only refer to fine tuning.
In "Force of Nature" [TNG], they transport from a stationary ship while falling out of warp in an area of massive subspace instability. It could be that since they aren't actively generating a warp field of any level they can get away with transport.
"What happened in "The Schizoid Man" [TNG] ?"
The Enterprise dropped out of warp for a fraction of a second, and engage the transport system. Troi reported feeling like she was inside the wall for a moment. It appears that the matter stream falls out of the ACB before transport is quite complete. Definitely a nasty thing if things aren't perfect.
And in the transporter weaponry category:
Transporter Scramblers: (from "Nor the Battle to the Strong" [DS9] & "The Darkness and the Light" [DS9])
Transporter Scramblers are electronic countermeasures that prohibit transporter activity in a given area. There are no known ways to overcome the scrambler, except through sabotage. Small scramblers can protect a few rooms of a ship or station, while larger arrays can block an entire planet. They are a standard part of Klingon ground assaults and are used in the protection of certain spaces of DS9.
Remat Detonators: (from "The Darkness and the Light" [DS9])
Remat Detonators are a Romulan weapon, probably invented by the Tal Shiar, that destroys a transporter pattern during rematerialization. They are very small, only 2 cubic millimeters, and are hidden on the person of the victim. Remat detonators are currently available on the black market as assassination weapons. They are also undetectable to most scans.
Thanks to Joseph M. Osborne for these summaries.
"How do replicators work?"
Replicators are based on transporter technology. A sample object is first "scanned" into the memory of a computer. Because even a simple object takes up an enormous amount of memory, the object is only resolved at a molecular level, not a quantum level. Further, the data must be compressed using a lossy algorithm, meaning that small, undetectable approximations are made to the data. This gives the computer a pattern to create a duplicate of the original. (TNG TM)
Starships have a small supply of bulk material that is constantly recycled into needed materials and items. When a request is made at a replicator terminal, the wave-guide conduit system on the ship relays a small amount of bulk material to the replicator, which uses it to create the materials called for in the pattern. The object is then beamed in at the terminal.
"Can replicators transmute elements?"
Yes... sort of. There have been occasions on the show where some required element cannot be replicated. The Tech Manual talks about "quantum transformational manipulation", so they can do some quantum twiddling to get new elements. However, it also says that the energy costs are high for all forms of replication, and that food, since it's usually just different arrangements of the same basic things (water, proteins, lipids), is more practical to replicate from bulk matter than to store.
In "Night Terrors" [TNG], when a certain substance is needed, Data says "We no longer have the power to reproduce complex elements in the replicator." This is evidence for the above.
"What about gold-pressed latinum?"
In "Who Mourns for Morn?" [DS9], latinum is described as a clear, viscous liquid. Morn has kept latinum in his second stomach for years. It's pressed into gold to to handle it better. The gold is worth nothing. 30 cc latinum is about 200 bricks worth. [Eur van Andel]
So, why is it valuable? See above about energy costs and certain elements - possibly latinum is a stable element that 24th century technology can't transmute. Or, alternatively, it could take *exactly* (perhaps by definition) the same amount of energy to replicate as it takes to mine/ manufacture, making it a good standard for monetary transactions.
Here's what Mike Okuda and Rick Sternbach came up with when confronted with this question in the book The Making of DS9, c/o Benjamin Chee:
Q: How could it be so valuable if it could be churned out by any replicator ?
RS: Oh, well, Mike and I have had discussions about things like this... it might be that, you know, that the particular molecular structure just doesn't, you know, doesn't - Mike? Why can't you replicate latinum ?
MO: Uh, it's because - uh, when - uh, it's because the um, the, uh, uh, the valence system and the molecular structure are, are arranged - the, uh, the, the, uh, replicator reads certain valence patterns - it recognizes that, that those are... copyguarded !
Q: Copyguarded ?
RS: Copyguarded! Oh, they're, they're 'nudged', sort of 'nudged quanta' and if they're -
MO: Hey, we talked about this before.
RS: That's right, that's right. Yes, and if they're, they're polarized in the, in the X plane, then they're, they're okay. If they're polarized in the Y-Z plane, then they're bogus.
Tom Luton writes:
The novel "Balance of Power" (TNG #33, written by Dafydd Ab Hugh) has a detailed description of why latinum cannot be replicated. I don't have the novel with me, but as far as I can remember, latinum has a highly complex molecular structure, and is extremely similar to Chasenum. Any attempt to replicate Latinum will result in the formation of Chasenum (I've forgotten the specific details, and I don't even think I've spelled the name of the material correctly).
"What happens to the glasses when they're done with them?"
The empty glasses, plates, etc, are put back in the replicator terminal ("Timescape" [TNG]), and returned as raw materials to the bulk matter store. It would make sense if they were only disassembled on the molecular level, as the energy needed to reform new glasses would be much lower than if they were broken down to the atomic level or quantum level.
"Why don't they use replicators to do instant ship repair?"
For minor repair, it might be feasible, but we rarely see any sort of repairs actually being done. When Geordi says "30 minutes at least, Captain", they might be replicating various components and using a transporter-effected swap-out. Recall, however, that the transporters and replicators use a lot of power. The replicators go offline in Alert situations, for example. It would be foolish to rely on such a system to repair the ship in emergencies, but it is doubtless used at other time.
For large scale repair, I think the TNG Tech Manual says it best: "... if you could make a starship at the touch of a button, you wouldn't need to..."
"Can you make two Datas with the transporter?"
No. It is not possible (with 24th century technology, at least) to replicate something at the quantum level. First, the amount of information needed to define a living, thinking being at that level of detail is incredibly large, far surpassing the computer capacity of any 24th century database. (TNG TM)
Presumably, Data and other Soong-type androids which use positronic brains have components which function at a quantum, or sub-molecular level which cannot be easily replicated.
Secondly, there is no way to scan at quantum resolution without destroying the subject. The transporter ACB need not know the precise details of every particle being transported - where they are and what they are doing is enough. Further, attempting to retrieve such information from the ACB would destroy it.
To duplicate a living being, a hypothetical effect, which I call an Annular Confinement Beam-Splitter, would be needed. As the ACB was passed through it, along with a supply of raw phased matter, it would duplicate the ACB's contents in the raw stream.
"Hey! What about "The Enemy Within" and "Second Chances" ?"
For better or worse, no such device has been intentionally created by 24th century science. However, in "The Enemy Within" [TOS], Kirk's duplication may have been caused by some accidental effect which caused an ACBS to form in the normal transporter mechanism, with disastrous results. The Encyclopedia says that damage to the the transporter's ionizer was the cause of the split.
In "Second Chances" [TNG], the mechanism by which Riker is duplicated is explained in detail. During transport through severe atmospheric interference, the transporter chief locked onto Riker's signal with a second ACB. When it turned out not to be needed, the second signal was abandoned. The atmospheric interference caused the second ACB to be reflected back to the planet, and somehow the matter stream was duplicated, using phased matter from the atmospheric interference effect to provide the duplicate mass.
"What about the time when... ?"
Star Trek has "broken" the rules of transporters a number of times. There are very few glaring examples of misuse of the transporter as a plot device to save the day, but the worst include:
"Rascals" [TNG] - Picard, Keiko, Guinan and Ro are turned into children in a freak transporter accident, and later restored. I won't even try. First off, the biology used in this episode is pure BS. Secondly, if a quick fix like this can alter the aging process, then by doing it intentionally, no-one will ever grow old and die again. Amusing episode, but it gets a thumbs down in the Treknology category.
"Unnatural Selection" [TNG] - The transporter magically rejuvenates Pulaski. While the mechanism by which her cure works is relatively sound, the fact that she recovers instantly is anomalous. (See "Man of The People" [TNG] for a similar insta-heal.) Better to just not ask.
"Tomorrow Is Yesterday" [TOS] - Somehow, the transporter is able to erase the memories of people by transporting a newer version of themselves over top of an older version. Talk about saving the day by transporter abuse!
"The Enemy Within" [TOS] - While I can buy the duplication effect, and maybe even the two disparate personas of the two Kirks, I think the recombination of the two was pushing the technology a little bit.
"What is phasing? It seems to be mentioned everywhere these days!"
Star Trek seems to have this notion of "phased" as a state or quality of matter and energy. Things can be offset slightly in a time-like dimension from our "phase" of the universe. The idea being that if you and I have different "phases" we can't interact with each other without using special particles or fields or the usual [TECH].
This is borne out in "The Mind's Eye" [TNG], where Geordi lists the five states in Sub-Quantum Transformational Relativity:
Phasers set on kill appear to work by violently phasing their target into one (or more) different phases. Ouch. This explains rather nicely why they just disappear and don't go "boom". Chronotons, which have been linked to time travel and associated effects, are also mentioned with regards to phasing a few times.
"The Tholian Web" [TOS] - The U.S.S. Defiant and Captain Kirk get trapped in an "interphase" rift, phasing in and out.
"The Next Phase" [TNG] - Geordi and Ro and a Romulan get accidentally phase-cloaked within the Enterprise. They can walk through walls and people. (They don't fall through the floor, though.) A high-intensity sweep with anyons return Geordi and Ro to normal phase.
"Time's Arrow" [TNG] - Phased creatures from Devidia Two are travelling through a portal to 19th Century Earth to steal neural energy. A subspace field can be used to align the phases of the Enterprise crew and the creatures.
"The Pegasus" [TNG] - The Enterprise uses a phase-cloak developed illegally many years ago by the Federation earlier to escape from an asteroid. The cloaking device phases the entire ship.
"Relics" [TNG] - Scotty couples the transporter phase inducers to the pattern buffer to create the suspension effect. Given that transporting involves conversion to a beam of matter and energy, and that you can transport through walls, that beam better be phased or there'll be some big nasty holes whenever people transport.
See the Reading List FAQ for more details on the reference volumes mentioned above and below.
The question of "what is canon" has been argued for years in the Star Trek newsgroup hierarchy. In the realm of technical discussions, this can be refined to the question of "what evidence is factual, and what is apocryphal". These FAQs follow the currently dominant notion that "canon" is aired live-action material and nothing more, with the caveat that materials produced off-camera by the production crew are often (but not always) reliable predictors of the direction future canonical material will follow, and are therefore granted a special "quasi-canonical" status. Any other material falls into the realm of speculation - it may be perfectly well grounded speculation useful for building up technical arguments, or wild flights of fancy that have no rational basis.
In addition, more recently presented information is considered to supercede old information, unless the weight of the evidence supports the original data. While this may seem highly biased and may be eyed with some skepticism as a form of Orwellian "newthink", it is a more useful predictor of what those directly responsible for the creation of the series are likely to include as canonical material in the future.
For example, the excellent and groundbreaking Star Fleet Technical Manual, by Franz Joseph created in the 1970's was a very well thought out look at the technical world of Starfleet just slightly beyond what was seen in the original series. Unfortunately, and perhaps for purely arbitrary reasons, the future development of "canon" Star Trek diverged from this speculation. This in no way implies that there was anything wrong with that volume or any others, merely that due to later "evidence", it can no longer be regarded as an authoritative overview of Trek technology. On the other hand, the author performed a lot of research to create it, and therefore its speculation should not be dismissed out of hand.
That said, we are dealing with a universe in the process of being created by scores of (usually) non-technical people, aiming to provide weekly entertainment for a mass audience. There are many inconsistencies even amid the canonical material, and often times the wildest speculation on the newsgroup makes more sense than what we see in the episodes.
Highly regarded, but non-canonical material:
Joshua Bell, firstname.lastname@example.org