Harvard-MIT physics development gives potential for real-life lightsabers
Tuesday, Oct 1st 2013

Environmental control systems in research settings may be bringing one of the most hallowed items from science fiction closer to reality. Star Wars fans may finally get their very own lightsabers after researchers at the Harvard-MIT Center for Ultracold Atoms made a significant discovery while working with photons, in which they created a real-life version of the iconic weapon.

Since Star Wars first premiered in 1977, fans of the series have been fascinated with lightsabers and scientists have spent years attempting to make an accurate replica. While several models have been made with lights and lasers, the product still wasn't correct. As is often in the case with in science experiments, using environmental control systems was instrumental to ensuring optimal conditions to work with the photons. The researchers put rubidium atoms into a vacuum chamber, which was held a few degrees above absolute zero, according to International Business Times. Photons were fired through lasers into the atom clouds, giving off energy to the atoms and exiting combined as one molecule. Under the same conditions, which can be achieved through temperature monitoring, other scientists can duplicate this test while ensuring that they're keeping the atoms in the appropriate environment to produce the same result.

"It's a photonic interaction that's mediated by the atomic interaction," Harvard physics professor Mikhail Lukin told Mother Nature Network. "That makes these two photons behave like a molecule, and when they exit the medium, they're much more likely to do so together than as single photons."

The science of lightsabers
In research labs, it's critically important to keep the environment stable in order to ensure that the study remains unaffected by unintended conditions. With controlled spaces, scientists are better able to predict and influence outcomes. Fluctuations in temperature can skew results and create a lack of consistency across future tests. Using a temperature sensor to ensure the area remains optimal for the tested material creates more accurate results. Medical innovations like vaccines and organ regeneration have also made significant headway through similarly regulated conditions.The development made by Harvard-MIT is significant due to the fact that it has revealed an entirely new state of matter that could influence even more processes and studies. The researchers noted that although they may not be able to make a replica just yet, they do plan to use their discovery for other advancements like quantum computing.

"We do this for fun, and because we're pushing the frontiers of science," Lukin told the International Business Times. "But it feeds into the bigger picture of what we're doing because photons remain the best possible means to carry quantum information. The handicap, though, has been that photons don't interact with each other."

Although the lightsaber that fans have been craving for years may still be a while off, the breakthrough shows promise for a product as well as other potential future innovations. As the researchers explore the molecule's capabilities, Star Wars fans can rest easy knowing that the technology does exist and that new opportunities may stem from the development.