The Science Behind Lightsabers

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Even those who aren’t fans of Star Wars have heard about lightsabers. The lightsaber, used by a Jedi, is a weapon that is both lightweight and portable, noted mostly for its blinding laser-like light as a blade.  It will be featured in the seventh newest addition to the Star Wars saga, The Force Awakens.  While lightsabers do not exist in our world, scientists think that they have discovered a way to bring the fictional weapon to life.

Physics professors Mikhail Lukin of Harvard University and Vladan Vuletic of Massachusetts Institute of Technology are responsible for figuring out the science behind lightsabers. Lukin and Vuletic experimented with photons by firing them into a vacuum cleaner with rubidium atoms in an extremely cold temperature. The particles suddenly became clumped together to form a molecule that behaves like a lightsaber.

The two scientists witnessed a phenomenon called the Rydberg Blockade. This phenomenon demonstrates that atoms neighboring an excited atom cannot be excited to the same degree as the initial atom. When multiple photons pass through a cloud of atoms, it creates a push-pull force between them, which is what binds the photons together and creates the first photon molecules. The physics of these molecules can possibly be applied in the creation of lightsabers.

Originally, it was difficult to connect the photons because they do not interact with each other. However, they were the best material for carrying out the  quantum information. Now, the creation of this new kind of molecule will most likely assist in advancing quantum computing. It can also lead to complex 3D structures made of light.

The new Star Wars movie will be released on December 18. Directed, co-written, and co-produced by J. J. Abrams, this long-awaited film will be the first installment of the sequel trilogy.  The movie takes place thirty years after the events of Return of the Jedi.

Although not particularly fond the series, Spanish teacher Christian Castillo joked, “If lightsabers were to become available, I would buy a lightsaber. I would use it on my freshmen.” Perhaps in the near future, we might be able to battle the dark side with our very own lightsabers.