Science of Lightsabers

May the 4th be with you

Whether you’re a Star Wars superfan or find yourself lost when the conversation turns to discussions of the feasibility of the Death Star, you can probably identify the epic space series’ iconic lightsaber. The lightsaber has become one of the most recognizable images in popular culture, but is it purely fiction or could it be a reality?

According to the Star Wars books, lightsabers are pretty complex devices but essentially boil down to a few key elements: a power source and emitter to create light, a crystal to focus the light into a blade, a blade containment field, and a negatively charged fissure. In the Star Wars galaxy, a lightsaber creates energy, focuses it, and contains it.

But that’s fiction and those ideas are not in line with current science and technology. So how could we build a lightsaber with the tools we have today?

Many people look initially to laser technology when discussing a practical lightsaber. It’s unrealistic to say that light could be the source of the blade seeing as light has no mass (creating a pretty insufficient weapon), but lasers could be an alternative. It may seem contradictory to say that lasers could be the blade in a lightsaber when lasers are essentially light focused to a very fine point, but as Looper puts it, light is to a laser what a tree is to paper.


Making Music through Tesla Coils

Musicians ArcAttack are bringing new meaning to the genre of electronic music with their rendition of Europe’s “Final Countdown” rendered through the hums of the infamous Tesla coils.

In order to produce the fury of sound and electricity, the band rigged their instruments to the frequencies of electrical current coursing through the coils. The resulting sparks can cause vibrations through the air at predetermined frequencies.

ECS Student Chapter Munich hosted its first-ever symposium on February 15, 2016, featuring invited talks by Professor Jeff Dahn and Professor Thomas J. Schmidt, a poster session, and numerous opportunities for discussion and networking.



Old People and Climate Change

We talk about climate change a lot here at ECS, but the realities of rising sea levels and record-breaking carbon emissions in the atmosphere makes for pretty grim material. In an effort to drum up support for environmental protection, Defend Our Future teamed up with Funny or Die to give the climate change discussion a little comic relief.

Funny or Die

Cloris Leachman, Michael Lerner, and a few other funny people discuss how seniors view climate change – or as they describe it, the “after I’m dead problem.”

After all the laughs, Defend our Future has one simple message: old people don’t care about climate change, that’s why you have to.

Building a sustainable future

Earth Day

Image: NASA

Over 40 years ago, the modern environmental movement was born. Passion and concern drove a small group of twenty-somethings together in a rallying cry to create a more environment-conscious society, establishing what has become known as Earth Day.

The original Earth Day focused on the issues of pollution, but today’s modern Earth Day focuses the pressing global issue of climate change.

Global challenges

Currently, carbon dioxide levels in the air are at their highest in over 650,000 years, the global temperature has risen 1.4°F since 1880, and the sea level nearly 7” over the past 100 years.

While a few people and politicians may sill dismiss climate change, around 200 worldwide scientific organizations now formally hold the position that climate change has been caused by human action. Additionally, nearly 170 countries are preparing to sign the Paris Climate Agreement today, which will put global plans into motion in an effort to tackle the issue of rising temperatures.

The science of renewable energy

Here at ECS, we believe the path to stopping climate change and tackling these issues that are devastating the environment begins with science.

With population growth and industrialization, global energy needs continue to grow. Economic, political, and environmental issues are largely dictated by energy needs.


Green chemistry

Researchers Phil Baran (left) and Evan Horn pose in front on an electric car, showcasing how the principals of sustainable transportation pertain to sustainable chemistry in the new allylic oxidation reaction.
Image: The Scripps Research Institute

Researchers from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have developed a new technique that has the potential to boost a traditional chemical reaction, opening doors for new developments in pharmaceuticals and other industries.

The researchers developed an easier, cheaper, and greener way to preform allylic oxidation – a process that typically employs toxic or expensive reagents and has previously been difficult, if not impossible, to implement on a large scale. By using the power of old-fashioned electrochemistry, the TSRI researchers discovered a way to make the process scalable through the use of safe chemicals.

(READ: “Scalable and sustainable electrochemical allylic C-H oxidation“)

“Turns out one of the best reagents you can buy is sitting in your wall socket,” said principal investigator Phil Baran. “The scope of the reaction is just phenomenal. It’s super easy to do, and the overall improvement in environmental sustainability is dramatic.”


HIV and hepatitis C are among the leading causes of worldwide death. According to amfAR, an organization dedicated to eradicating the spread of HIV/AIDS through innovative research, nearly 37 million people are currently living with HIV. Of those 37 million, one third become co-infected with hepatitis C.

The threat of HIV and hepatitis C

The regions hit the hardest by this co-infection tend to be developing parts of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa and Central and East Asia.

While these developing regions have measures to diagnosis HIV and hepatitis C, the rapid point-of-care tests used are typically unaffordable or unreliable.

An electrochemical solution

A group from McGill University is looking to change that with a recently developed, paper-based electrochemical platform with multiplexing and telemedicine capabilities that may enable low-cost, point-of-care diagnosis for HIV and hepatitis C co-infections within serum samples.



Image: Antalexion

With the increasing popularity of solar power and ongoing dialogue about the effects of climate changes comes inevitable discussions about the viability of renewable energy. While efficiency levels have grown tremendously over the years, many still worry about the feasibility of solar panels during inclement weather when the sun is not shining its brightest.

To address that issue, more attention has been focused on energy storage. However, a group of Chinese scientists are turning to the solar panels themselves to answer some of these questions.

In a recently published paper, scientist detailed a new way for solar panels to produce electricity from rain water. The way it works is pretty simple: researchers apply a thin layer of graphene to the bottom of the solar panel; when it rains, you simply flip the panel and allow the positively charged ions from the rain drops to interact with the graphene and produce electricity.

“Although great achievements have been made since the discovery of various solar cells, there is still a remaining problem that the currently known solar cells can only be excited by sunlight on sunny days,” wrote the researchers in the paper.


Artificial limbs have experience tremendous evolution in their long history. Throughout history, we’ve gone from the peg leg of the Dark Ages to technologically advanced modern day prosthesis that mimic the function of a natural limb. However, most prosthesis still lack a sense of touch.

Zhenan Bao, past ECS member and chemical engineer at Stanford University, is at the forefront of the research looking to change that.

(MORE: Read Bao’s past meeting abstracts in the ECS Digital Library for free.)

Recently on NPR’s All Things Considered, Bao described her work in developing a plastic artificial skin that can essentially do all the things organic skin can do, including sensing and self-healing.

The self-healing plastic Bao uses mimics the electrical properties of silicon and contains a nano-scale pressure sensor. The sensor is then connected to electrical circuits that connect to the brain, transmitting the pressure to the brain to analyze as feeling.

Additionally, the skin is set to be powered by polymers that can turn light into electricity.

While there is still much work to be done, Bao and her colleagues believe that this product could help people who have lost their limbs regain their sense of touch.

The iconic Moore’s law has predicted the technological growth of the chip industry for more than 50 years. When ECS member and co-founder of Intel Gordon Moore proposed the law, he stated that the number of transistors on a chip would double every two years. So far, he’s been correct.

But researchers have started hitting an apex that makes keeping the pace of Moore’s law extremely difficult. It has become harder in recent years to make transistors smaller while simultaneously increasing the processing power of chips, making it almost impossible to continue Moore’s law’s projected growth.

However, researchers from MIT have developed a long-awaited tool that may be able to keep driving that progress.

(READ: “Moore’s Law and the Future of Solid-State Electronics“)

The new technology that hopes to keep Moore’s law going at its current pace is called extreme-ultraviolet (EUV) lithography. Industry leaders say it could be used in high-volume chip manufacturing as early as 2018, allowing continued growth in the semiconductor industry, with advancements in our mobile phones, wearable electronics, and many other gadgets.