Building Death Stars is impractical, but lightsabers are no longer out of the question. U.S. scientists have happened upon how to make the venerable Star Wars weapon.
The Guardian's Ben Child yesterday uncovered an article in the journal Nature, published in May, which outlines a way to bind photons together into a new form. That's what is needed to make devices that behave like lightsabers a reality. Scientists from Harvard, MIT, and other U.S. universities collaborated on the study.
"What we have done is create a special type of medium in which photons interact with each other so strongly that they act as though they have mass, and bind together to form molecules," Harvard university physics professor Mikhail Lukin told the Guardian. "It's not an in-apt analogy to compare this to lightsabers. When these photons interact with each other, they're pushing against and deflect each other. The physics of what's happening in these molecules is similar to what we see in the movies."
Last year, a U.S. military device called the Metal Vapor Torch created the appearance of a lightsaber with a fiery blade that can cut through metal. The device was more of a torch that produced a "flame" that travels 1,600 miles a second at 2,700 degrees Celsius and above. It only operates for a few seconds using a fuel pack.
Other scientists have also made inroads at producing technologies from the Star Trek universe. In 2011, physicists in China figured out how to draw objects closer with a laser powered "tractor beam." They published a paper describing how objects can be pulled on a "wind of light" by deploying specialized lasers called Bessel beams.
Efforts to research a tractor beam-like effect date back to the 1960's. Fringe physics theories have involved directing "anti-gravitational force" toward or away from an object, gravity beams, and floating objects above electromagnetically levitated superconducting disks.
23rd century technology functions very differently. In Star Trek, a starship's tractor beam utilizes so-called attenuated linear graviton beam to move around other sub-warp objects such as asteroids or enemy vessels.
This may all sound fantastic, but science fiction has a tendency to become reality.
(image credit: http://starwars.wikia.com/)
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