ANIME THEORY: Lightsabers, Still a Fantasy

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Welcome to the fifth ANIME THEORY, guys and gals! Yeah, I know I’ve been missing for a while; I haven’t even started watching some of the new season anime because I’m busy commuting back and forth from my office to my campus. You know, tying all loose ends before the Eid al-Fitr holidays begin. Speaking of Eid, I plan on doing an Islam-related THEORY on an anime. Got any suggestions?

In this THEORY, I’ll be revisiting the SAO franchise I hate and love so much mainly because, as much as I hate it for completely destroying the light novel, I love it for showing us futuristic technologies related to gaming. And since SAO II is already out, I’ll use this THEORY to elaborate on one of the anime’s best features: the lightsaber.

I have always been fascinated with the lightsaber ever since I saw the original Star Wars trilogy (and not the crappy prequels). I’ve found the lightsabers to be wickedly awesome and cool. They can cut without resistance and can deflect bullets. Heck, for Halloween in 2000, I dressed up as Darth Maul with a toy dual-ended lightsaber I bought at Toys R Us. Now, the lightsaber in SAO II is also inspired by the one in Star Wars, as Kawahara Reki has admitted in the light novel.

But is the lightsaber only a scientific fantasy? Or does it have the potential to actually become reality? Let’s find out. And remember, I am not a physicist, so please forgive my lack of expertise in the field of physics, Sheldon Coopers of the Internet.

Physics of a Lightsaber

Before diving deeper into making a lightsaber, let me return to elementary physics. A lightsaber, as it is called, is supposedly a blade made of light. But what exactly is light? When speaking about light, light is actually an electromagnetic wave (EM), just like microwaves and gamma rays. Visible light has a wavelength spectrum of 400-700 nanometers. The properties of visible light are:

  1. It propagates forwards in one direction until halted by a medium. In this case, visible light can be “stopped” when met with a solid body, like an umbrella.
  2. Light can be reflected, polarized, refracted and dispersed.

When talking of a lightsaber, we can’t rely on everyday visible light. That’s because normal, visible light is just not powerful enough. Instead, we’re talking lasers.

Laser light is very different from your normal everyday light in three aspects. First, laser light is monochromatic, meaning that it is emitted in only one specific wavelength. That’s why most lasers only come in one colour, like red or green. Second, laser light is coherent, meaning that it is “launched” in unison. And finally, laser light is directional, meaning it has a tight beam and is very concentrated. That’s not like your normal light, which is released in many directions.

A laser at NASA.

Now, because of these properties, we have seen science using lasers for many purposes, such as laser eye surgery and even engraving and cutting. And because high-class lasers pack quite a punch, it seems lasers are our best bet in constructing a lightsaber.

History of Lightsaber Research

Believe it or not, there actually has been a lot of research regarding the lightsaber. That’s the power of nerds for ya. However, I’ll focus on two of the most marvelous research efforts.

The first was conducted in around 2008 by the eccentric physicist, Michio Kaku. Hey, I watched his show on Discovery Channel! He wanted to create a lightsaber using lasers, but found out these five major problems when he wanted to use lasers for a lightsaber.

First, remember that light propagates forward indefinitely until stopped? The same holds true for lasers. Thus, the first problem: if light continues to propagate forward, how would we limit the length of the blade? We would have lightsabers with blades extending up to the atmosphere! While we could put a mirror to limit the blade’s length, it would mean that the lightsaber can’t be used to stab people and takes out a major chunk of its elegance.

Second is the issue of power. Powering a laser to the point where it can cause major destruction is heavily energy-consuming and is not possible on standard batteries. Also, installing a high-capacity power source in a 30-cm hilt seems to be nigh impossible unless we have more advanced technology.

Third, with high-power lasers come intense amounts of heat. Thus, a lightsaber would need an insane cooling mechanism to keep the machine from overheating. And let’s face it, to even keep that overpriced GPU cool for you to enjoy lag-free gaming and prime FPS, you need a lot of cooling mechanisms the size of a massive CPU tower. Yeah, I’m exaggerating, but think about it: how would you pack a cooling mechanism capable of cooling off the intense heat generated by a laser inside the hilt of a lightsaber

Fourth is combat usefulness. Since light can be reflected, and a laser is basically overexcited light, this would mean that your opponent can easily deflect your attacks with a Mirror Shield and laugh wickedly as your lightsaber cuts you in half. And since light doesn’t clash with light, lightsaber blades would never be able to collide with each other like they do in Star Wars. And again, since light does not have substance or mass, how would you expect to deflect bullets like what Kirito does in the anime? (Oops, spoiler alert) Thus, you have a meaningless weapon.

Fifth is lack of coolness. You won’t be seeing a pillar of light. A laser beam is practically invisible unless it is directly aimed towards your eye (and then, goodbye vision). And also, when you swing a lightsaber, you won’t get the awesome “shwoong” noise. This is because light does not produce sound.

Faced with these difficulties, Michio Kaku decided to use whatever existing technology he had and built a plasma sword. While it’s not a lightsaber, it does the job quite well. But still, it’s not a lightsaber. Here’s the video of Michio Kaku’s process. It’s a 22-minute video, but it’s totally worth your time.

The second piece of lightsaber research was admitted as accidental. The work of Lukin et al (a group of MIT and Harvard physicists) in 2013, published in Nature, found a way to make photons act as solids. As quoted from the Guardian:

“Most of the properties of light we know about originate from the fact that photons are massless and do not interact,” said Harvard University physics professor Mikhail Lukin. “What we have done is create a special type of medium in which photons interact with each other so strongly that they act as though they have mass, and bind together to form molecules.

“It’s not an in-apt analogy to compare this to lightsabers. When these photons interact with each other, they’re pushing against and deflect each other. The physics of what’s happening in these molecules is similar to what we see in the movies.”

Now, I’ve read the journal article and I can’t understand shit about how they managed to make photons act like solids. Could someone please explain the article to me in plain English? Seriously, physics makes my head spin. What I do understand though, is that we may have found a way to give light mass, which paves the way for further research and not only in the realm of realizing childhood fantasies. Now, when the research is complete, we may have overcome one of the five problems of the lightsaber, which is combat usefulness; we could have a lightsaber that can clash with other lightsabers. But then again, don’t get your hopes up because there’s four more obstacles we need to take down.

Conclusion

Even with today’s tech, a lightsaber still seems to be in the realm of the impossible. But hey, what of 10 years from now? What if they perfect the method to make photons act like solids? Perhaps, we may be seeing Jedi Knights. Oh yeah, speaking of Jedi Knights, they’re actually a real religion! Wait, this is supposed to be about SAO… So, for you SAO fans, perhaps that fancy lightsaber may still be a fantasy. And remember, anything is possible inside an anime about an MMORPG.

But hey, that’s just a theory. An ANIME THEORY!

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