Updated: Aug 9
By Jordan Newquist
Lightsabers are a hallmark of the Star Wars franchise. Wielded by George Lucas’s Jedi Knights, many Star Wars movies and new shows revolve around these “laser swords”. Though the force may be a fictitious facet of the Star Wars universe, could lightsabers exist in real life?
In exploring the legitimacy of lightsabers, we first have to understand what a lightsaber is. According to Star Wars, a lightsaber is an energy sword made up of a power cell and crystals which focus energy from the cell into a blade. Many scientists have taken up qualms with the main characteristics of lightsabers considering they are meant to be made of light: lightsabers have a finite length, and they appear to be solid (and can bounce off other lightsabers and certain metals).
Scientists Francois Fillion-Gourdeau and Jean-Sebastien Gagnon took on the issue of a lightsaber’s “bounce” in their paper “On the physical (im)possibility of lightsabers”. They argue that, although we may not be able to make a lightsaber with the technology we have today, it is physically possible: Light can interact with itself in a vacuum, especially in lower frequencies. Considering we cannot see these lower frequencies, Fillion-Gourdeau and Gagnon studied only the possibilities of light we can see, also known as the Visibl me Light Spectrum. They determined that, by using lasers with incredibly high energy, we could feel the interactions of the particles that make up lightsaber blades. The technology to make such lasers does not currently exist, but perhaps one day we’ll have lightsabers in our hands.
Chungpin Hovering Liao, a scientist at MIT, provides us with a solution to the infinite path of light. The lightsabers in the Star Wars movies end at a certain point, yet we cannot stop light after a length far less than what lightsabers require. Liao proposes that, by breaking down E and H pulses - electromagnetic pulses of incredibly short length - and a wave moving at the speed of light, “a plasma blade of about two meters can be secured”(Liao 2019). We have our finite light blade!
There are hundreds of youtube videos and blog posts about creating lightsabers, but we have yet to make a lightsaber that genuinely mirrors the light blade we see in the Star Wars movies and shows. A laser sword poses many challenges in the bounds of our universe’s physics, but the recent research of Star Wars Scientists around the world shows one day we may have lightsabers of our own! Maybe in the future, we can have lightsaber duels of our own!
On the physical (im)possibility of lightsabers - François Fillion-Gourdeau and Jean-Sébastien Gagnon
Liao, Chungpin. (2019). Finally, the finite-length lightsabers of Star Wars are possible if equipped with sufficient energy capacity and good materials. 10.13140/RG.2.2.25991.04006.