May 01, 2014 I Tom Head

We Could Probably Build Deflector Shields Right Now, If We Wanted To

I could write daily articles about the wonderful stuff you'll find in the University of Leicester's Journal of Physics Special Topics. Where else can you read about the potential cognitive benefits of cranial frill cooling, the physics of the Street Fighter 2 hadouken fireballs, Superman's solar cell efficiency, or the best places in the solar system to brew a cup of tea? And that's just from the 2013 volume.

In the same issue, you'll find an article io9's Mark Strauss recently highlighted, charmingly titled "Shields Up! The Physics of Star Wars" (and written by Leicester students Joseph McGuire, Alex Toohie, and Alexandra Pohl), that deals with the physics of deflector shields. (The article says force fields, but—since most sci-fi force fields repel matter, not just laser beams—I prefer the term "deflector shield.") Students at the University of Leicester discuss the Journal of Physics Special Topics in general, and the "Shields Up!" article in particular, here:

The tl;dr of it is that we could build a deflector shield made (essentially) out of a magnetically constrained layer of plasma, and we could do it right now if we really wanted to, but

  • it would block laser beams, not projectiles,
  • it would require a lot of energy, and
  • it would be a two-way shield blocking the entire visible light spectrum, so the user would effectively be blind.

As the authors point out, the fact that this device wouldn't be useful in a military context doesn't mean that we might not find it useful in other contexts. I can think of a few, but I'd rather open up the floor. Why not suggest possible uses for the McGuire-Toohie-Pohl shield in the comments below?

Tom Head

Tom Head is an author or coauthor of 29 nonfiction books, columnist, scriptwriter, research paralegal, occasional hellraiser, and proud Jackson native. His book Possessions and Exorcisms (Fact or Fiction?) covers the recent demand for exorcists over the past 30 years and demonic possession.

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