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Physicists one step closer to creating real-life lightsabers

The moment "Star Wars" fans have been waiting for might finally be here: Lightsabers are no longer just a figment of George Lucas' imagination. They could soon be more than a plastic Hollywood prop or a Halloween accessory.

In the Sept. 25 edition of the journal Nature, a team of Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) physicists explain that they've discovered a molecule that behaves exactly like the weapon made famous by Luke Skywalker.

They haven't actually created a real-life lightsaber, but understanding the physics is the first step to that ever happening.

"It's not an in-apt analogy to compare this to lightsabers," Harvard physics professor Mikhail Lukin said in a statement. "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."

The researchers didn't set out to discover the physics behind a real-life lightsaber. Rather, they were developing photons to be used in a quantum supercomputer. The process involved using a laser to blast the photons through a cloud of cooled rubidium atoms.

When the researchers sent more than one photon through at a time, the principle of the Rydberg blockade caused the photons to clump together. The Rydberg blockade states that an excited photon cannot excite nearby atoms. In the cloud, the photons were forced to help each other through.

"Most of the properties of light we know about originate from the fact that photons are massless and do not interact," Lukin said. "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."

The report gives no indication that the scientists will be using the discovery to create real-life lightsabers.

But with Disney already working on a new trilogy of "Star Wars" films set for release in 2015, 2017 and 2019, perhaps they'll make the perfect debut-party souvenir.

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