A YouTuber has set a new world record for the first working, retractable lightsaber. The Star Wars-inspired technology uses white-hot elemental plasma, can run for up to 30 seconds at a time, and can even cut straight through steel. And even better: it’s mostly crafted from old, discarded parts.
In January, Guinness World Records recognized Alex Burkan, the mind behind the DIY lightsaber, for his invention. He frequently posts zany, but technically impressive projects on his YouTube channel Alex Lab, which has over 875,000 subscribers as of press time. There, you can find his epic builds, including hydrogen generators, Iron Man suits, and of course, his lightsaber, which produces an impressive three-foot-long plasma “blade” that can reach temperatures over 5,072 degrees Fahrenheit, according to a press release.
Plasma is the fourth (and lesser-known) state of matter alongside solids, liquids, and gasses. It’s a charged gas that behaves in some ways like a liquid. One of the most famous applications of plasma is in an experimental nuclear reactor, called a tokamak, where superheated plasma ions fuse together—literally creating nuclear fusion.
Another common plasma application is in a specialized piece of hardware called a plasma cutter. It’s used to cut conductive materials like stainless steel that are too strong for almost any other method to slice through. Plasma cutting is kind of like arc welding in reverse; in fact, it developed from plasma welding.
So how do you make what amounts to a massive, elongated plasma cutter that doesn’t require an additional solid conductive material in order to work? Well, you electrify a gas instead.
“The key component of my lightsaber is an electrolyser. An electrolyser is a device that can generate a huge amount of hydrogen and oxygen and compress the gas to any pressure without a mechanical compressor,” Burkan says in the Guinness World Records press release. Electrolyzers (the American English spelling) are machines that separate hydrogen and oxygen atoms within water to create hydrogen fuel.
From there, Burkan made a burner powerful enough to turn both oxygen and hydrogen into high-temperature plasma that behaves like ionized stream. Basically, he had to electrify and ignite both gasses at a much higher temperature than a regular fire.
“Finally, the most challenging job was to squeeze the whole gas distribution system in a lightsaber handle,” Burkan says in the release. The downsizing of hydrogen electrolysis is honestly a problem the entire hydrogen industry faces as the gas takes its place as one of the next great hopes for non-fossil fuels. If we can’t produce enough free (in the chemical sense) hydrogen, people can’t use it to power cars or airplanes.
Burkan’s final lightsaber is definitely cool, but it doesn’t look as refined as the computer-generated imagery (CGI) or practical effects that the Star Wars movies use for its lightsabers. This “blade” is much thinner, with more variation and scrappiness in the plasma stream; it looks more like a close-up of the surface of the sun than a smooth tube. That makes sense, because the sun is also hydrogen plasma.
By making a fully retractable hydrogen lightsaber blade, Burkan has turned a classic plasma cutter into something way flashier. And the Force is with him.
Picture: Guinness World Records / YouTube