Light Friday: Did Scientists Just Create a Light Saber?

September 27, 2013


War Helps Nations Grow

Timelapse of a GE Turbine Installation

Why It's Hard to Control Your Thoughts

A Dose of Pun

When the famous "Star Wars kid

" video began making rounds on the Internet in the wake of the new prequels, most of us had a good laugh, but a knowing laugh, too. Because who has ever seen a Star Wars film and not fantasized about using a real lightsaber? Even Stephen Colbert used his wide fanbase to get himself in a Star Wars video swinging a laser sword.

As for the rest of us, it appears two researchers may have made the first step in developing a lightsaber in the real world. Harvard professor Mikhail Lukin and MIT professor Vladan Vuletic recently demonstrated a phenomenon known as the Rydberg blockade. Essentially, excited atoms (that contain at least one electron) cannot pass the same level of excitement on to neighboring atoms.

When Lukin and Vuletic shot photons through a cloud of rubidium atoms, they witnessed deflection because of the blockade principle.

"It's not an in-apt analogy to compare this to lightsabers," said Lukin, according to the

website. "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."

Unfortunately, this discovery doesn't get any of us all that closer to fighting our friends with laser swords in the back yard, because Lukin and Vuletic plan to use the technology to improve quantum computers.

War Helps Nations Grow

War is a sensitive topic for many, but it may be the central reason for the evolution of ancient societies, at least according to a new study. Researchers developed a cultural evolutionary mathematical-based model to understand how large-scale societies arose in history and found a strong link between societal development and military technologies such as chariots and cavalry in ancient times.

The study, published in the journal PNAS

, details the use of a model simulated within a realistic landscape of the Afro-Eurasian landmass between 1,500 BCE and 1,500 CE. The researchers found that integrating the spread of military technologies in their model -- i.e., intense warfare -- accurately reflected the development of largest complex societies, though geographic factors and agriculture also played a role in growth.

"What's so exciting about this area of research is that instead of just telling stories or describing what occurred, we can now explain general historical patterns with quantitative accuracy. Explaining historical events helps us better understand the present, and ultimately may help us predict the future," the study's co-author Sergey Gavrilets, National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) director for scientific activities, told Science2.0


Timelapse of a GE Turbine Installation

General Electric has released this video timelapse of its GEnx turbofan engine blades being installed by hand at its Peebles Test Operations Facility in Ohio. This monstrous machine delivers 15 percent better fuel economy than similarly sized engines. At the same time, it has a lower ratio of decibels to pounds of thrust. This is due largely to the uniquely shaped fan blades, which GE claims allows the engine to operate at lower tip speeds.

The video, which is only 16 seconds long, offers a startling perspective on the size of the engine compared to the humans who create it.


Why It's Hard to Control Your Thoughts

Don't think about a white bear.

It is pretty much guaranteed that nearly everyone reading that sentence immediately thought of a white bear. It's difficult for people to control their thoughts for long periods of time. But why? New Scientist explains that we aren't even entirely sure what causes a thought. The video below explains more.


Finally, A Dose of Pun



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