The Impact of Accelerating a Petri Dish of Bacteria to 90% the Speed of Light

Imagine a Petri dish filled with bacteria, hurtling through space at 90% the speed of light. It’s a scenario that seems more at home in a science fiction novel than in a laboratory. Yet, it raises an intriguing question: how would such extreme acceleration affect the bacteria? To answer this, we need to delve into the realms of physics, biology, and the theory of relativity.

Understanding the Theory of Relativity

According to Einstein’s theory of relativity, as an object approaches the speed of light, its mass increases while time slows down relative to a stationary observer. This is known as time dilation. However, from the perspective of the bacteria (or any object moving at such high speeds), time would appear to pass normally.

Effects on the Bacteria

Assuming the bacteria could survive the initial acceleration, they would likely continue to function as normal from their perspective. This is because the laws of physics, including those governing biological processes, would remain the same in their frame of reference. However, from an outside observer’s perspective, the bacteria’s metabolic processes would appear to slow down due to time dilation.

Challenges of Acceleration

One of the biggest challenges in this scenario would be achieving the acceleration to 90% the speed of light. The forces involved would be immense and could potentially destroy the bacteria and the Petri dish. Additionally, even if the bacteria survived the acceleration, they would be exposed to intense cosmic radiation, which could cause DNA damage and potentially kill them.

Implications for Space Travel

This thought experiment has implications for the concept of interstellar travel. If humans were to travel at speeds close to the speed of light, time dilation would mean that they would age slower relative to people on Earth. However, the challenges of achieving such high speeds and protecting against cosmic radiation remain significant hurdles to overcome.


In conclusion, while the bacteria in the Petri dish would likely continue to function normally from their perspective if they could survive the acceleration to 90% the speed of light, they would appear to slow down from an outside observer’s perspective due to time dilation. However, the practical challenges of achieving such high speeds and protecting against cosmic radiation make this scenario highly unlikely. Nevertheless, it provides a fascinating insight into the effects of relativity on biological processes and the challenges of interstellar travel.