On May 4th, Dr Stephen Gibson, Particle Physicist and Star Wars fan, has been reflecting on the Skywalker saga that began a long time ago (in a galaxy far far away), and giving the technology a topical twist for today!
Experiments at CERN
"Star Wars, an epic tale of good against evil has captured the imagination of generations of fans, me included.
A few years ago I wrote this article ‘Is building your own lightsaber possible?’, a light hearted look at the physics principles of these devices, which considered how a real one might be built. Now, hunkered down during the COVID-19 crisis on May 4th, I find myself wondering what other Star Wars inspired technology might be applied to combat this new Dark Side.
Which technology would you choose?
First on my list would be the medical capsule used by Emperor Palpatine to cocoon his fallen apprentice – even Darth Vader’s life was saved by a ventilator! The reality is closer than you think; the “DarkSide” collaboration, a group of physicists searching for Dark Matter with liquid argon detector, and others have applied their precise gas control systems to design a simple ventilator for rapid mass-production.
Next on the list would be surgical droids, like the one that replaced Luke Skywalker’s hand. While nothing can replace our amazing NHS and Carers, a quick search reveals that robots are already playing their part in the COVID battle by enabling doctors to remotely communicate with patients and allowing automated drone deliveries of medical supplies.
How about a large, grey, circular machine that generates an intense beam of light? No, not the Death Star - I’m thinking of the Diamond Light Source, a particle accelerator in Oxfordshire that is helping global efforts, by bombarding samples with intense bursts of synchrotron light to map the structure of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Despite the lockdown, a core team of staff have been running the accelerator remotely, so it’s fully operational.
C3PO has an uncanny ability to quickly calculate the odds of survival in any situation. Would his electronic brain rival the computing grid, the number crunching farm that particle physicists use to analyse data from experiments at CERN, which is now being applied to fold proteins instead.
Closer to home, which Star Wars tech would you choose for lockdown life?
Perhaps what we miss most is the physical connection with distant friends and family? If only we could recreate the force-bond between Rey and Kylo Ren, giving us the ability to connect and speak over incredible distances. Or the holographic projection that Princess Leia used to enlist the help of Obi-Wan? In fact, augmented reality headsets can already overlay computer generated holograms in our field of view – the next feature in our Zoom calls? Researchers are also developing holographic projectors, based on the acoustic levitation of a polystyrene bead moved at high speed, and illuminated by coloured light to create a true 3D image. Perfect for those appeals to distant Jedi, or maybe just to check in with the grandchildren.
Whatever technology you’re using today, May the 4th be with you!"