TALLAHASSEE — Could a Death Star be coming to a galaxy near you?
Some of the most dreaded weaponry and futuristic vehicles in Star Wars — from lightsabers to landspeeders — could become real things one day as scientists make breakthroughs in laser and other technologies.
What’s commonplace far, far away is still centuries from arriving on Earth, said Murray Gibson, dean of the Florida A&M University-Florida State University College of Engineering. But modern science makes it possible to imagine, at least.
“The great thing about movies like Star Wars is the imagination it takes to think about what could be possible,” he said. “As an engineer, if you want to do things that don’t violate the laws of physics, you probably can do it. It can cost a lot of money and there is a question of is it something you really need to do. But it’s a great way to stimulate imagination and stimulate technology.”
Gibson said it’s conceivable a lightsaber could be built using laser technology. However, it’s a vexing proposition for modern-day scientists for a number of reasons. Laser beams are difficult to confine and pass through one another, making a duel impossible for the time being. Powering them would be tough, too — Gibson estimated it would take 25 pounds of batteries, an inconvenient haul even for a Jedi.
But there are possible workarounds, Gibson said. Squeezing light through holes smaller than the wavelength of the laser could contain the beam. And research at the College of Engineering could lead to lighter batteries capable of producing high impulse power and more energy.
“Of course, our research is aimed at real current problems,” Gibson said, “such as reducing the weight of mobile and wearable devices, increasing the efficiency of electric vehicles and airplanes and supporting renewable energy. But it’s good to know the force is with us!”
It might be a while before landspeeders — the hover crafts seen in the first Star Wars movie — roll off showroom floors. Gibson said jet engines and propellers allow for vertical takeoff and landing. But those technologies wouldn’t allow landspeeders to seemingly float above the ground.
“There seems to be no air motion around the landspeeder when it rises, so those technologies couldn’t be used,” he said. “So how to get the levitation without disturbing the air remains a mystery.”
Even more problematic — beyond obvious ethical questions — would be construction of a planet-killing Death Star.
“An amazing amount of energy would be needed, and today we have no idea how we could deliver that much energy so quickly in a directed beam,” Gibson said. “My quick estimate is that this beam would have to be trillions of times more energetic than anything we have imagined.”
Gibson was already working on his doctorate in physics at the University of Cambridge in England when he went to the see the original Star Wars in his hometown of Aberdeen, Scotland. But he’s hoping the movies will inspire a new generation of scientists.
“From our point of view, it’s great because it might get young people excited about engineering and science and technology,” he said.
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