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Science of Star Wars: How Close Can We Get to a Real Lightsaber?

In a galaxy far, far away with Jedis who keep the peace, Siths who plot to overthrow them, teddy bear insurgents called Ewoks and a princess who flies through space, the lightsaber is the most iconic weapon to wield. As Obi-Wan Kenobi says to Anakin Skywalker in Attack of the Clones, “This weapon is your life.” 

The lightsaber is one of the most well-known pieces of science fiction weaponry in history. Taking a quiz to find out which lightsaber colour fits your personality is an age-old tradition, re-enacting the lightsaber battle between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back is a childhood rite of passage. 

While Luke Skywalker’s original lightsaber was constructed from a vintage 1930s Graflex camera flash gun and unfortunately does not fire beams of energy outside of television screens (not even when it was displayed at Science World as part of The Science of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! exhibition in 2018!), it might be possible to create a real lightsaber that does. 

According to the lore of the Star Wars Legends, a lightsaber is an energy blade composed of a diatium power cell and crystals that focus the energy into a beam. In the real world, a lightsaber could be created using plasma, as suggested by physicist Dr. Michio Kaku

Last year, Canadian engineer & CEO of Hacksmith Industries, James Hobson, created a plasma protosaber. In the Star Wars universe, a protosaber is an archaic lightsaber that requires external power supply; the hilt of the blade is connected via cable to a power pack that is carried on the back or the hip. As technology improved in their far away galaxy, the protosaber was abandoned for a lightweight, portable design—the lightsaber. 

Here on Earth, we are bound by laws of thermodynamics, so James and his team of engineers had to create an external power pack for their protosaber. They attached it to tanks of liquid propane gas and oxygen gas to create the high level of heat required to make the plasma beam. Once lit, the beam heats up to around 4,000°F, enabling you to cut through blast doors and evil forces, a necessary life skill. 

Hacksmith Industries’ lightsaber, with a blade made of ultra-hot glass, can’t parry an opponent’s blade as you see in the Star Wars movies. However, they were also able to colour the beam using salts; boric acid to turn the beam green, calcium chloride to turn it amber, strontium chloride to turn it red, and sodium chloride to turn it yellow. 

James and his team got close with a protosaber, but could we get even closer? Dr. Kaku thinks we probably could if we build a lightsaber blade with hot plasma heated to around 12,000°F, contain it on a ceramic rod with an electromagnetic coil, and power everything using trillions of nanobatteries. 

The technology necessary to create Dr. Kaku’s version of a lightsaber does not exist—yet.  He estimates that nanobatteries are about 50 years away from being practical. But it seems we can look forward to a day when such an elegant and powerful weapon is a real possibility. 

Unleash your inner inventor.

Visit the Eureka! Gallery at Science World where you can use straws, bricks, and other materials to build anything your imagination conjures.