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Could scientists build a real lightsaber?

With The Last Jedi hitting screens this week, Star Wars fever is back to its all-time high.

The Star Wars movies are full of cool tech but the most beloved thing of all is probably the lightsaber.

Since lightsabers look and sound so rad, it leads you to wonder – could we make one for real?

That’s the question that Murray Gibson, Dean of the Florida A&M University-Florida State University (FAMU-FSU) College of Engineering, recently asked himself.

In a video titled “The Science Behind the Lightsaber”, Gibson says that while we don’t have one today, it is possible that we could within a few decades.

Gibsons says that the obvious way to make a lightsaber would be to use lasers.

There are several problems with using lasers though. The first one is stopping the laser beam. Lightsabers are about a metre long, but laser beams tend to travel forever.

Gibson says that we already have technology that allows us to squeeze light through holes that are smaller than its wavelength, resulting in beams that could be stopped.

“In principle, that technology, which we are beginning to use for a lot of things nowadays, could be designed to create a beam that only goes a certain distance and doesn’t go any further,” Gibson explains.

The other problem has to do with the solidity of lasers. As noted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, lightsabers would theoretically just pass through each other, making them useless for swashbuckling sword fights.

But there are ways around this, too. Tyson himself admits that if the lightsabers possessed high levels of gamma radiation, they might be able to repel each other; Gibson believes the same effect could be achieved with high-density lasers, which, again, already exist.

The final issue comes down to powering the lightsaber.

“If you look at lasers we use today to drill through steel, they use a lot of power,” Gibson says.

Gibson estimates that a lightsaber would require about 50 kilowatts, which is more power than your house is using most of the time.

Batteries that size are also heavy. With our current technology, 50 kilowatt batteries weigh about 190 kilograms, which may be a little tough for old Yoda to lug around. Well, you might say lightsabers may be super heavy but they’re all just using the force to wield them.

But Han Solo isn’t force sensitive and he used a lightsaber to cut open that Taun Taun in Empire Strikes Back. Nerd alert.

When it comes to the issues of energy storage, once again Gibson says we are working on it.

“I think we’ll find a way in the coming decades to make lighter, better power sources,” he says.

“Of course, our research is aimed at real current problems such as reducing the weight of mobile and wearable devices, increasing the efficiency of electric vehicles and airplanes and supporting renewable energy,” Gibson told USA Today.

“But it’s good to know the force is with us!”

The short answer is no, we can’t build lightsabers right now – but they might be possible within a few decades. And even when they are possible, we probably won’t invest the time and money into building them.

Plus, we’re all still waiting for our flying cars and hoverboards, right?

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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