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How to create a real Star Wars lightsaber: a British chemist gives instructions, warning of danger

Maria ShevchukNews
Fans have repeatedly tried to recreate the "weapon that cuts steel". Source: Pixabay

A chemist has published a step-by-step guide to creating a lightsaber, an "elegant weapon of a more civilized era." Since the release of the first Star Wars movie in 1977, engineers have repeatedly tried to create a version of the movie's "weapon that cuts steel", but it seemed unrealistic.

Dr. Alex Baker from the University of Warwick believes that it is quite possible, Mail Online writes. However, he warned that the "superheated stick of fiery death" could be too dangerous for people to pick up.

How to create a real Star Wars lightsaber: a British chemist gives instructions, warning of danger

The blade of a lightsaber is made of "plasma," the fourth state of matter after solid, liquid, and gas. According to Dr. Baker, a real lightsaber sucks in gas from the surrounding air, which it can ionize to become plasma.

Plasma is an ionized gas, meaning that its atoms or molecules are not neutral but carry an electric charge. It can also be fired in straight beams at very high temperatures, allowing it to cut through steel.

YouTubers have already tried to make their own plasma lightsabers. But their creations are not at all like the movie ones, and the blade shoots only a few waves.

"People have created devices that form a direct plasma jet. Over time, it cools down and deionizes back into a gas," Dr. Baker said.

How to create a real Star Wars lightsaber: a British chemist gives instructions, warning of danger

"The length of the blade is limited by how far you can shoot the ionized gas before it cools down and the electrons recombine with their ions," the scientist added.

The problem is that plasma tends to dissipate if it is not held in a magnetic field, so the blade would disappear shortly after the lightsaber is turned on.

What's more, if they didn't have a magnetic field, the two blades would just pass through each other instead of colliding like in the movies. Dr. Baker says that this important magnetic field could potentially be created by a long, thin metal rod through which an electric current passes.

If properly shaped, the magnetic field could hold a "loop" of plasma in place, but the rod would have to be as long as the length of the blade. This metal rod could be made retractable so that it doesn't just stick out of the handle when the weapon is turned off.

Dr. Baker calls the metal rod a "massive copout" because it's not part of the lightsabers in the movies. However, it would still be necessary for the saber to work.

"The problem is that you can't just design a magnetic field of the shape we need without a workaround with a rod," he says.

That's why the Force solves this problem in Star Wars.

How to create a real Star Wars lightsaber: a British chemist gives instructions, warning of danger

Meanwhile, since the temperature of the plasma blade is likely to be several thousand degrees Celsius, the handle must also be made of "excellent thermal insulator" and resistant to damage, perhaps yttrium oxide ceramics.

Diamond heat sinks inside the handle can also help dissipate heat.

As for the initial power source, Dr. Baker admits that the lightsaber "definitely needs something better than an AA battery" to maintain the plasma and magnetic field.

"We don't currently have the technology to do that, but as batteries improve, who knows, maybe one day it will be possible," he added.

In the original Star Wars movies, Luke Skywalker had blue and green lightsabers, while his sworn enemy Darth Vader had red ones. In the prequel trilogy, Mace Windu, played by Samuel L. Jackson, had a purple lightsaber, allegedly at the actor's request.

Since lightsabers have to take gas from the surrounding atmosphere to turn into plasma, the color of the lightsaber would depend on the planet you are on. Since the Earth's atmosphere is made up mostly of nitrogen, all lightsabers on Earth would be blue, like Obi-Wan Kenobi's.

"If you want to get a certain color, you can burn it with salts like sodium chloride, like in a school flame test," the chemist adds.

According to Star Wars fan literature, the hilt of a lightsaber contains a "cyber crystal" that can focus and amplify energy.

Although this is a fictional object, some kind of crystal is probably needed to focus the laser beam to improve gas ionization.

How to create a real Star Wars lightsaber: a British chemist gives instructions, warning of danger

So could lightsabers exist in this galaxy? Dr. Baker says yes, although there is still a lot of "hard science" to be worked out.

"At the moment, the biggest challenges are how to sustain the plasma, having enough energy to produce it and the magnetic field you need to hold it, and materials for the hilt that could withstand the heat of the plasma," he said.

"Does that mean we can't achieve it? No. Scientists have a funny way of making science fiction into science fact," the chemist said.

He added that lightsabers, just like the ones in the movies, will appear in about 30 years, although they are "too dangerous, so we probably don't need them."

In addition, lightsabers would be "incredibly inefficient in terms of energy compared to firearms."

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