Every Star Wars fan dreams of owning a real light saber, the elegant and beautiful weapon of choice for any Jedi knight. Well, according to the latest news from Harvard and MIT, the Force could soon be with us.
Whilst larking around with lasers and fooling about with photons, a group of physicists discovered that when they fired multiple photons through a cluster of rubicon atoms, the particles grouped together to create a new type of molecule which behaved like a light saber. This effect is known in scientific terms as the Rydberg blockade, whereby a single ‘excited’ particle prevents the excitation of other neighbouring particles to a greater degree than itself. When this effect occurs in a host of atoms, it creates a conflicting ‘push-pull’ effect which is what creates and binds the new molecule together.
The scientists who discovered this effect were Harvard physics professor Mikhail Lukin and MIT physics professor Vladan Vuletic.
"It’s not an in-apt analogy to compare this to lightsabers," said Lukin in a press release. "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."
Unfortunately, the new technology will not be used to put light sabers into our Christmas stockings; the scientists intend to use the new form of matter to help build more advanced quantum computers, but the potential is there and we can now justifiably add light sabers to the list of Star Wars-style technologies that science has managed to replicate.
The iconic films have inspired a generation of scientists to go boldly where no scientist has gone before (sorry, wrong film!) with the result that gizmos comparable to those used by the Jedi Knights are already in existence. Take the ‘Speeder Bikes’ seen in the ‘Return of the Jedi’. Mark DeRoche, head of a company called Aerofex has developed a "low-altitude tandem duct aerial vehicle" which hovers and manoeuvres just like a Speeder Bike, though if you want to buy your own, the price tag of around $100,000 may be slightly off-putting. The bike can be viewed in action here.
You may also remember that in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, Luke Skywalker’s arm was severed and he was given a bionic replacement hand which actually allowed him to feel again. Incredibly, the field of prosthetics has advanced so dramatically that a bionic hand has recently been created to rival Luke’s own. The robotic limb, which has been developed by a Reliable Neural-Interface Technology program at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), interfaces directly into the recipients’ nerves to enable it to provide, and be controlled by, sensory feedback.
So, science fiction is fast becoming science fact and in 50 years time even these advances could appear be commonplace! In the words of Yoda, it seems we really are ‘luminous beings’ indeed, capable of developing the fantastic and the mind-blowing. The human race has made such technological leaps and bounds over the past few decades that it’s hard to believe that we haven’t had some assistance from elsewhere in the Galaxy. Whatever the reason for our amazing advances, we should always remain humble as it is easy to become the victims of our own scientific success. We should therefore always remember the advice of Han Solo: “Great, kid. Don’t get cocky".
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