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Everyday science

Star Wars fact or fiction, Wikipedia editor in space, stellarator tour

01 Dec 2017 Hamish Johnston
Carsten Welsch
Fact and fiction: Carsten Welsch. (Courtesy: Cockcroft Institute)

By Hamish Johnston

What is it about Star Wars that captivates the imaginations of physicists? Earlier this week Carsten Welsch, who is head of physics at the University of Liverpool and head of communication for the nearby Cockcroft Institute, gave a presentation called “Physics of Star Wars” to an audience of hundreds of secondary school children, undergraduate and PhD students and university staff.

“I selected iconic scenes from the movies that everybody will immediately recognize, and used real-world physics to explain what is possible and what is fiction,” says Welsch. “For example, a lightsaber, as shown in the film, wouldn’t be possible according to the laws of physics, but there are many exciting applications that are possible, such as laser knives for high-precision surgery controlled by robot arms and adaptive manufacturing using lasers for creating complex structures in metals.”

You can watch a video of R2D2 negotiating a maze at the event here.

Staying in space, a few weeks ago we mentioned Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli and the video he took of a fireball falling through Earth’s atmosphere. Nespoli is still up on the International Space Station and this week he has become the first person to contribute to Wikipedia from space. He recorded two audio messages, one in English and one in Italian, describing his exploits in space and uploaded them to the online encyclopaedia. You can listen to the English message here.

Finally, back here on Earth you can take a virtual tour of a research facility that recreates conditions in the Sun – the Wendelstein 7-X stellarator fusion research device at Greifswald, Germany. You can view a 360° panorama of the stellarator and also take an annotated tour of the facility.

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