The deflector shields featured throughout the Star Wars franchise are possible in theory, and the technology to make them exists right now, according to a group of final year physics students from the University of Leicester.
The students, who published their findings in the Journal of Special Physics Topics, found that by making the shield out of heated plasma and holding it in place using a magnetic field it could in theory be made to deflect lasers.
The research, which was timed to coincide with Star Wars Day on 4th May, also found that the denser the plasma used the higher the frequency of laser that would be deflected.
However, while the technology would work fine on lasers, it would be useless against projectiles such as bullets, making it pretty unhelpful in warfare unless weaponry goes through some major changes.
It would also need a powerful energy source; while the magnets needed to hold the shield together are possible to make, they require a lot of juice to keep going, resulting in very little free space in your X-Wing fighter.
The shield also doesn’t just block lasers – it cuts out light, which means that it would be entirely inappropriate to protect vehicles. The team, however, has a solution to this. By using a UV camera, someone inside could view the outside world at a light frequency that is missed by the shield.
The principle behind the shield’s design can be seen in our own planet’s atmosphere.
In an interview with Phys.org, paper co-author Alexander Toohie said:”The Earth’s atmosphere is made up of several distinct layers, one of which is the ionosphere. The ionosphere is a plasma, and extends from roughly 50km above the surface of the Earth to the edge of space.
“Just like the plasma described in our paper, it reflects certain frequencies of electromagnetic radiation, in this case radio frequencies. Radio communications and RADAR can be beamed upwards toward the sky where it will be reflected back down toward the Earth. This method can be used to send communications over the horizon where radio transmissions would not normally be capable of reaching, much like using a mirror to look around a corner.”
The team believes that the technology’s true potential lies as a cage rather than a shield.
“Another possible application of this principle may be for trapping radiation inside a shell of plasma rather than excluding it,” explained Toohie. “This may be useful for applications that require incredibly high temperature environments, such as experimental fusion reactors.”
The Journal of Special Physics Topics is run as a module at the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.
Course tutor Dr Mervyn Roy said: “The aim of the module is for the students to learn about peer review and scientific publishing. The students are encouraged to be imaginative with their topics, and find ways to apply basic physics to the weird, the wonderful and the everyday.”
Star Wars screenshots via Wookieepedia.