How stuff works – The Lightsaber

Keeping with the Feeds motto, I decided to do something Star Wars themed this time. The LightSaber.

In the movies, the lightsaber was made using a technique called rotoscopy, which we don’t care about because it’s boring and pointless. What we do care about is how it works, and since we’re engineers, if we can make one.

First, a little background information on lightsabers. They’re hard, long (about four feet) blades of pure energy. They can be used to stab, withdraw, stab, plunge and cut. Both Jedi and Sith (the two main factions in Star Wars) have one. Jedis, being the good guys, have blue lightsabers and the Sith have red ones. There is no documented information on if the queens and princesses own any.

Now that that has been established, let’s get on to the science behind it. Every one of these weapons has a hilt. There’s a button on the hilt, which when pressed releases a lit beam of energy. This beam is what is responsible for all the cutting and slashing. The swords give off a characteristic hum, and this changes in pitch and volume as the blade swings through air. When two lightsabers meet, they give off a loud crackle.

We need to explain two things. First, what is the energy source? And two, how does it stay contained within that four feet beam?

The first question is answered very easily. Lasers. With our (comparatively) primitive technology, we’re able to build lasers that can cut and melt. It can safely be assumed that the Star Wars universe uses lasers as the source of energy.

The second question is harder. What stops this light at four feet? How is it encased in one, tightly concentrated rod of energy?

The best answer that I’ve been able to come up with is with a use of force fields Scientists have actually been researching on using superconductors and charged plasma to come up with a force field that can keep out electromagnetic waves.

Fortunately for us, light is an electromagnetic wave. Which means a force field set up like this would suit us just fine.

The rest is simple. There’s a coil of some superconducting material inside the hilt. We can make an assumption that superconductors at every temperature exists that far in the future. The beam of light is then produced. This beam, due to the heat it generates, ionizes the surrounding gas, converting it into plasma. Then, this plasma, along with the superconducting wire, traps the light in a 4’ tall column.

This then becomes the symbol of ultimate badassery in the Star Wars canon.

Can we make one? It’s with a heavy heart that I have to say no. Until we can generate superconductors that can work at high temperatures, the LightSaber will remain a fictional weapon.

So there you have it. A pseudoscientific explanation for how a LightSaber works. May the Force be with you.



Ajay Srikanth – Batch of 2017


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