We’re a tiny bit closer to the force being with each and every one of us. Physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology have discovered its possible to get photons to strongly interact with each other enough to form a bound state as they travel side by side one another, a startling amount of control that makes it feasible to create molecular light, say, in the form of a sword.
Now, before you start donning your cloaks and practicing your swordsmanship with a broomstick in anticipation for your very own lightsaber, you need to know – you ain’t getting one anytime soon. The process of creating molecules of light with photons is no cakewalk, requiring an entire laboratory setup, blistering cold rubidium gas that allows the photons to interact with one another and lots of fancy equipment that’s not so easy to shrink down into the base of a sword.
Since photons have no mass and move at the speed of light, it’s been rather tricky to get them to slow their roll and hang out with one another to conceivably form a cohesive structure. Blasting them with chilly rubidium gas slowed them down long enough so that when something other than photons pass through them, they start to clump together and form molecules. The physics behind what’s going on with these molecules formed is similar to the sword-like light structures formed by lightsabers in that little movie franchise you may have heard of.
With all those big, promising, science-y words said, a functional lightsaber is still a ways off. In addition to the aforementioned hurdles, other roadblocks to making a lightsaber include finding a way to keep laser light that is formed confined to a short blade, as light doesn’t stop on its own unless it encounters something that reflects or absorbs its energy. Also, maintaining the rubidium gas so that those pesky photons will interact with each other is a bit tricky as well.
Most of you by now are probably too discouraged to read on (what with having your childhood fantasies crushed and all), but for the photon fanatics out there, real-world applications for this breakthrough do exist, albeit at a less-than-lightsaber cool degree. Many forms of modern technology are based on light, and manipulating interactions between photons could greatly improve everything from communication to imaging technology.
In the meantime, cheer up young padawans. Science is closer than ever to helping us get our hands on a working lightsaber. All it’ll take is a few bright minds and some nerd who geeks the hell out over The Force Awakens to get us to the next breakthrough. Where there’s a will, there’s a deadly beam of light.