The science of Star Wars awakened by University of Leicester students

Posted by ap507 at Dec 17, 2015 02:15 PM |
From lightsabers, deflector shields and the age of the Skywalker twins, physics students explore scientific concepts in the Jedi universe

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 17 December 2015 

Could a lightsaber really work?

What would hyperspace travel look like?

And how strong would a deflector shield need to be to fend off interstellar attacks?

These are all questions that Star Wars fans have been asking for decades, and now that The Force Awakens has been released in cinemas, they will likely be asked again soon.

Thankfully, calculations conducted by University of Leicester students have been shedding light on the answers to these questions.

Fourth year Master’s students at the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy take the Physics Special Topics module to learn about peer review and scientific publishing. As part of the module they must formulate their own short physics research problems: generating creative ideas from the real world, popular culture, and science fiction – including Star Wars.

Among the Star Wars-related questions the students have addressed are:

The Millennium Falcon’s crew would actually see a central disc of bright light when entering hyperdrive. There would be no sign of stars because of the Doppler effect - the same effect which causes the siren of an ambulance to become higher in pitch as it comes towards you.

While possible if the blade was made oplasma, it would be difficult to be able to make a lightsaber in the manner shown in the films. In order to function correctly, the weapon would probably need to be more 'bottle' shaped than the slim, linear blades seen in the movies.

It would be possible to create magnetic fields strong enough to replicate the effects of a plasma-based shield to deflect laser-based weapons using current terrestrial technology. This has the consequence, though, that visible light could not be used to observe outside of the shield, meaning pilots would need to use an ultra-violet camera instead.

The Skywalker twins would actually be different ages due to Einstein's theory of relativity, which results in time ticking more slowly on an object that is moving at a higher speed. The calculations made were based on the twins’ journeys to Cloud City. Leia travels from the neighbouring system of Anoat, while Luke travels from the much more distant planet Dagobah. Luke’s journey was estimated to be 25 times longer than Leia’s, with the conclusion that Luke is 1.75 years younger than Leia.

The students presented their findings in a paper for the Journal of Physics Special Topics, a peer-reviewed student journal run by the University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. The student-run journal is designed to give students practical experience of writing, editing, publishing and reviewing scientific papers.

Course tutor, Dr Mervyn Roy, a lecturer in the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, said: “Every year we ask each student to write around 10 short papers for the Journal of Physics Special Topics. It lets the students show off their creative side and apply some of physics they know to the weird, the wonderful, or the everyday.”

Read an article on why it is important to make physics and science education relevant and accessible to the public here:

A video of Star Wars at the University of Leicester is available at:


Notes to editors:

For more information about the Physics Special Topics module please contact Dr Mervyn Roy on


Share this page: