Can lightsabers move beyond science fiction by harnessing real,world laser technology?
What are the hurdles we must overcome for that to happen with today’s science?
This Star Wars Day, we speak to laser-tech expert Dr Bi Guijun – not related to Qui-Gon Jinn from Star Wars – from A*STAR’s Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech) to understand more.
Hurdle #1: You can’t stop a laser beam, and they technically go on forever in a straight line.
Can you imagine launching a lightsaber made of laser? That would be one infinitely long sword beyond our control!
But according to Dr Bi, we can leverage optics that can potentially alter the laser beam propagation path.
"If we find a way to use an optical system to redirect the laser beam and confine it within a pre-determined range, that is one potential solution to control the length of the laser beam," said Dr Bi.
Hurdle #2: Lasers pass through each other.
Laser beams are not solid, which would make them useless in sword fights!
However, Dr Bi believes that there are some creative ways to overcome this problem that are related to the nature of a laser beam.
"Lasers are essentially electromagnetic waves. Like how two magnets can repel each other, we can also allow lasers to interact with each other depending on how we polarise the beams. It’s a mix of selecting the right type of wavelengths and the right source of the laser beam," said Dr Bi.
Hurdle #3: It takes a bulky, high-power source to power a lightsaber laser beam.
A high-power laser (powerful enough for Jedis and Siths) requires a high-power energy input.
"Thus, a standalone electrical system to power a lightsaber will have to be very bulky," said Dr Bi.
But there could be a way around this. Besides electricity, lasers can also be powered by nuclear reactions.
"In my mind, I think the most possible lightweight solution is to use an atom source." Well, it can’t get any lighter than that. Atom sources are also longer lasting.
It is a similar concept to a nuclear pumped laser, whereby a nuclear reaction is used to generate laser beams. But this presents an even bigger hurdle.
"There are many safety concerns when harnessing nuclear energy. It is currently used for warships, submarines and power plants, whereby it can generate huge amounts of energy. As you can imagine, it is a controlled item," Dr Bi concluded.
Although that is one challenge that could be beyond our control, but its real-world application does sound like it fits perfectly in a Star Wars movie.
What is the laser technology at A*STAR used for?
The laser technology at A*STAR’s SIMTech – though state-of-the-art – is not used to build weapons for a science-fiction universe.
It provides real solutions for companies, and is helping Singapore take bold leaps into the Future of Manufacturing.
"I obtained my PhD from the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology, RWTH Aachen University, Germany, and have been with SIMTech for more than 11 years," said Dr Bi.
A*STAR’s SIMTech developed the Laser Aided Additive Manufacturing (LAAM) as a precision engineering system that benefits industries such as aerospace, marine offshore, and oil and gas.
"We use this technology to replace traditional manufacturing techniques like casting, which are not environmentally friendly, especially in high mix and low volume, " said Dr Bi. "The benefits of additive manufacturing include time and cost savings for companies, and helping to make a positive impact on the environment."
More specifically, the technology can be used to repair damaged parts in nearly all industry sectors, as well as improve corrosion and wear resistance for marine, oil and gas companies.
Wielding the tennis racket, not a lightsaber
In his spare time, Dr Bi and his wife enjoy a game of tennis on weekends to keep himself refreshed after a long week at work.
We can only imagine his racket-wielding skills coming in handy in a duel one day if lightsabers were to become a reality.
Transform your business with A*STAR’s Future of Manufacturing (FoM) Initiative. Find out more here.
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