The Physics of the Star Wars BB-8 Droid: How Does It Work?

Introducing the BB-8!

Fans of Star Wars are rejoicing with the release of the seventh episode in the series, The Force Awakens.  With it comes a new robot, the BB-8, that has immediately captivated viewers at first sight.  It is an astromech droid in the Star Wars Universe. An awesome new toy version is available, made by Sphero. It’s a remote controlled robot that rolls without the use of external wheels.  Regardless of how the robot functions in the Star Wars universe, it’s probably not too different from the way the toy version works. Rumors from production claim Sphero’s technology helped with the development of the actual BB-8 and there was also some puppetry involved in the film version of the droid.

How do you make a sphere roll without pushing it?

An article in Wired recently explained that you need a moveable mass inside the sphere. The mass could be any number of things, like a tiny car with wheels, or a hamster.  We’ve probably all seen how a hamster rolls one of those plastic see-through spheres from running on the inside of it.  Whatever the mass is, when it moves up the wall of the sphere a little bit, the center of mass for the whole sphere shifts.

And now for some science stuff:

When the center of mass shifts away from being vertically over the contact point, there is an external torque on the sphere.  The contact point is where the movable mass lies within the sphere. Torque is the tendency of a force to rotate an object about an axis. This torque then increases the angular momentum of the sphere and causes it to roll.  In physics, angular momentum is the rotational analog of linear momentum, meaning the momentum of the spinning sphere will keep spinning until a force acts upon it.  This is similar to an object moving in a linear line – it will keep moving in a straight line until a force acts upon it. The angular momentum of a system remains constant unless acted on by an external torque.

Once the sphere starts rolling, the inside mass could just stay at the lowest point—except there is some external friction which will require the inside mass to continue to ride up the side and provide some torque.  The external friction is the floor surface on which the sphere is rolling on.  When the inside mass moves up the wall, there is an external force to accelerate the sphere horizontally—friction. Here is a more detailed image showing all the forces on the sphere when the mass moves up the wall.

Magnets keep it together:

As far as the head of the robot goes, it uses a magnet to stay on. There is probably some type of magnet inside the sphere to attract a magnet inside of the head. The head then has rollers so that it can roll along the top of the sphere. The inside magnet would have to be movable so that you could make BB-8 do fun head moves.

This is truly an adorable, awesome addition to the Star Wars Universe. I for one would love to see a buddy movie spin off featuring BB-8 and R2-D2.

The Science of The Force

The Force
What is The Force in the Star Wars universe? Could we as humans, here on planet earth, ever dream of having such power at our fingertips? To answer that we need to look at what The Force is, and how the rules that define it compare to what is known about the world we live in.

“Well, the Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” Obi-Wan Kenobi

In Star Wars, The Force is an energy field that connects all living things in the galaxy. The power of The Force can be used by individuals who are sensitive to it, a power that is tapped through the midi-chlorians.

Midi-chlorians are microscopic, intelligent lifeforms that live within the cells of all living beings in the Star Wars Universe. The Force spoke through the midi-chlorians, allowing certain beings to use the Force if they were sensitive enough to its powers.

The two main practitioners of The Force are the Jedi and the Sith. Usage of the Force grants a number of useful powers, such as the ability to sense impending attacks; to push and lift physical objects; influence the thoughts of others, known as the “Jedi mind trick”; and even see the future or maintain one’s consciousness after death. Dark side users strong with the Force could summon lightning from their fingertips. Jedi taught younglings that the Force could be used for many purposes, including protection, persuasion, wisdom, the manipulation of matter and the performance of great physical feats.
Earth Forces
So, that being said, how does this compare with the laws of physics in our world? The closest thing we have to an energy field that is all around us, is the electromagnetic force.  It is one of the four known fundamental forces and is a type of physical interaction that occurs between electrically charged particles.

The electromagnetic force is the one responsible for practically all the phenomena one encounters in daily life above the nuclear scale, with the exception of gravity. Roughly speaking, all the forces involved in interactions between atoms can be explained by the electromagnetic force acting on the electrically charged atomic nuclei and electrons inside and around the atoms, together with how these particles carry momentum by their movement.

If elevated levels of electromagnetism were directed at certain areas of the brain, this can affect people mentally.  If you direct magnetic fields at different parts of the brain you get all sorts of responses.  They can be used to pacify a subject, make someone hallucinate, can even be used to alter someone’s sense of morality.

Eventually we’ll be able to photograph a dream…it is well within the lines of physics, to photograph a dream.

Science Fiction? Or just Science?
According to physicist, Dr. Michio Kaku, aspects of the force are being developed today.  We can now begin to decipher the outlines of thinking via the electroencephalogram (EEG) and the MRI, which gives us living pictures of thoughts ricocheting like a ping pong ball inside the brain.  We now have computers that can read these thoughts.  In Japan, we even have a device that allows you to see what you are seeing on a small scale – like seeing a memory on a computer screen.  Eventually we’ll be able to photograph a dream, for example.  According to Dr Kaku, it is well within the lines of physics, to photograph a dream.

We can’t exactly use electromagnetism to move people’s bodies at our will, but we know certain parts of the brain are connected to certain parts of the body, and we’ll be able to energize them, perhaps, with electromagnetic radiation.  So we’ll be able to actually manipulate arms and legs of a person, simply by using electromagnetic radiation beamed into the brain.  This technology is very primitive at the present time, but we’re getting there very fast.

If electromagnetic forces are the key to unlocking our own Force like abilities within the rules of physics on earth, then we need something to be able to direct or utilize that force whenever we desire.  There is already an example in nature of a creature that is able to process or read electromagnetism all around it – sharks and other cartilaginous fish.

Sharks have the Ampullae of Lorenzini, electroreceptors that form a network of jelly-filled pores in their nose. This organ allows them to detect the electromagnetic fields of the objects around them.  They can sense great disturbances, like a ship with a large magnetic field, or small ones like a fish they’d like to eat that’s nearby.  Perhaps if we had some biological enhancement, like the Ampullae of Lorenizini, or if midi-chlorians somehow became a real thing, we’d be able to read and understand, maybe even use the electromagnetic forces around us.

What is known about our physical world is fascinating, and the forces that are all around are fantastical in their own right. With understanding, and when taken to the next level through technology and research, our world could be closer to the science fictional world of Star Wars.

The Governments of Star Wars: How to Achieve Power and Authority

Star Wars mostly shows how cool lightsaber fights can be. However, it also shows how difficult it is for anyone, Jedi or Sith, to create a workable government on a large scale. Turns out that running a nation with hundreds of planets and billions of people, aliens, and robots, all with their own languages, values, and agendas, is pretty hard. This is especially true if you don’t have the two main ingredients of government: power and authority.

Power is the answer to the question: “What can a government do?” In the Old Republic, the answer to this question was “Almost nothing.” In the Empire, the answer was “Almost everything, including blowing up a planet.”

Authority is the answer to the question: “Why does a government exist?” In the Old Republic, there were tons of answers to this question, including tradition, the legitimization of royalty, religion, and defense against the Dark Side. In the Empire, the only answer was the wrath of their evil agenda and the imposing force of Darth Vader.

The Old Republic had authority but no power. The Empire had power but no authority. Both fell apart predictably in the movies. With no power to actually do anything, the Old Republic fell apart as soon as they faced a serious government problem. With no reason to rule, the Empire was destroyed as soon as they lost military power, much like other fallen empires in our own history.

Will the Rebel Alliance do any better in the upcoming episodes or will the First Order rise to become even more powerful than the Empire? What authority do General Leia and Han Solo have to rebuild a government and deal with all the problems of an entire galaxy? I think the real question here is whether a galactic government is even possible, or even necessary.

Watch the video below for a breakdown of power and authority in the Star Wars galaxy and how it compares to governments in our world’s history.

The Physics of the Star Wars BB-8 Droid: How Does It Work?

Introducing the BB-8!

Fans of Star Wars are rejoicing with the release of the seventh episode in the series, The Force Awakens.  With it comes a new robot, the BB-8, that has immediately captivated viewers at first sight.  It is an astromech droid in the Star Wars Universe. An awesome new toy version is available, made by Sphero. It’s a remote controlled robot that rolls without the use of external wheels.  Regardless of how the robot functions in the Star Wars universe, it’s probably not too different from the way the toy version works. Rumors from production claim Sphero’s technology helped with the development of the actual BB-8 and there was also some puppetry involved in the film version of the droid.

How do you make a sphere roll without pushing it?

An article in Wired recently explained that you need a moveable mass inside the sphere. The mass could be any number of things, like a tiny car with wheels, or a hamster.  We’ve probably all seen how a hamster rolls one of those plastic see-through spheres from running on the inside of it.  Whatever the mass is, when it moves up the wall of the sphere a little bit, the center of mass for the whole sphere shifts.

And now for some science stuff:

When the center of mass shifts away from being vertically over the contact point, there is an external torque on the sphere.  The contact point is where the movable mass lies within the sphere. Torque is the tendency of a force to rotate an object about an axis. This torque then increases the angular momentum of the sphere and causes it to roll.  In physics, angular momentum is the rotational analog of linear momentum, meaning the momentum of the spinning sphere will keep spinning until a force acts upon it.  This is similar to an object moving in a linear line – it will keep moving in a straight line until a force acts upon it. The angular momentum of a system remains constant unless acted on by an external torque.

Once the sphere starts rolling, the inside mass could just stay at the lowest point—except there is some external friction which will require the inside mass to continue to ride up the side and provide some torque.  The external friction is the floor surface on which the sphere is rolling on.  When the inside mass moves up the wall, there is an external force to accelerate the sphere horizontally—friction. Here is a more detailed image showing all the forces on the sphere when the mass moves up the wall.

Magnets keep it together:

As far as the head of the robot goes, it uses a magnet to stay on. There is probably some type of magnet inside the sphere to attract a magnet inside of the head. The head then has rollers so that it can roll along the top of the sphere. The inside magnet would have to be movable so that you could make BB-8 do fun head moves.

This is truly an adorable, awesome addition to the Star Wars Universe. I for one would love to see a buddy movie spin off featuring BB-8 and R2-D2.

Star Wars: The Science of Star Killing

In Star Wars The Force Awakens, the galaxy is going to face a new threat, The First Order. This new evil empire has a super weapon capable of destroying whole solar systems, which they keep at their base of operations: Starkiller Base.

If the name “Starkiller” sounds familiar, its probably because an early draft of the first Star Wars script called the main character “Luke Starkiller” instead of “Skywalker”, and a lot of Star Wars
writers like to reference that fact with easter eggs throughout the Star Wars universe.

It seems though that the First Order are using the name literally and that their new weapon may actually be able to destroy stars. Leaving aside for now the question of what this could mean for the Galaxy and our heroes, let’s first ask the question: how would that even work? Watch the video below to see how we break down the galactic science behind star killing.

The gravity that holds the star together is delicate. If the amount of stuff in the star doesn’t stay dense enough the explosions at its core will start to expand out in a massive explosion called a Supernova. So, if you want to make a star go supernova, you just have to add enough energy to make its mass outweigh its density.

But say you actually do want to use a laser, just for old times’ sake. Well, one way to do that is the use the technique of laser cooling. Laser cooling is a method scientists actually use when researching microscopic particles. It works because temperature is largely caused by the atoms inside of something moving at a faster rate. If you can tune
a laser finely enough to push individual atoms, you can slow down their rate of movement and cool off the structure their part of. How does this help with our star problem? Well simple, the exploding stuff acts like a core reactor. But, if you reduce the temperature of the core, you’ll also decrease its amount of fusion.

The star’s balance of gravity and expansion will be thrown off and it will collapse in on itself, and boom goes the dynamite.

The video dives deeper into the science, but basically that is the scientific method for star killing. Remember kids, don’t try this at home.

Star Wars: Should Fan Fiction be Added to the Star Wars Canon?

What’s Wrong With The Star Wars Prequels?

Before Star Wars exploded into the franchise it is today, it started with three movies: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. A whole universe of stories written by a whole slew of authors branched out from these movies. Then the official prequels were made. There are many diehard fans who hated the Star Wars Prequels; the boring plotlines, the demystification of the world, and the overuse of green screen and CGI. Above all, the poorly developed characters are widely considered to be George Lucas’ worst offense. Since the celebrated release of The Force Awakens and the upcoming release of Rogue One, there has been a rise of positivity around the prequels. This may be because fans want to protect the Star Wars franchise.

Can’t Keep The Stories Straight? You Need A Canon!

Star Wars is just one of the many epic franchises out there. Star Wars, like a myriad of other celebrated stories such as the Avengers, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter have inspired numerous official and unofficial prequels, sequels, and spin-offs. These narrative creations have taken a variety of forms; from fan-fiction and fan YouTube videos to television series, video games, and books. With so many elements and sub stories, it can be difficult to keep up with the real storyline and know what the creators, owners, and fans actually consider the true plot and subplots for the franchise. This confusion is why canon is needed! Canon is the material of a story that is accepted as official and is decided upon by the creator of the story or the person or business that owns the story.

We Think You Can Do Better

A lot of fans think that the Star Wars prequels spoiled the rest of the series by demystifying the working and fleshing out characters with dull uninteresting stories, character motivations and morals. Many people have postulated ways in which the prequels could have handled the characters and their storylines better, which has created whole new set of sub-stories and subplots.

Characters in any story must be, above all else, believable and consistent. And as a story grows and evolves the characters must do the same whilst retaining those qualities. In Star Wars Episode VII, The Force Awakens, we see the return of old characters and, though they have changed in many ways, we can understand how they got to that place and why their past decisions led them there. When writing about characters, respecting their consistency is integral to broadening their stories. In this lesson we will look at the Star Wars franchise in more detail and go beyond to create our own franchises with their own ever evolving cast of characters.

The RLL Podcast: Ep. 1 – Jessica Jones, Star Wars and 5 Ways to Make your Classroom Student-Centered

In this episode, Abe sits down with Tharaha Richards to discuss the latest lessons exploring the true scary science in Jessica Jones and the newest additions to our ‘Teaching Star Wars’ series. Our special guest for this week is EdTech expert Kristine Scharaldi, who is best known for her work as a dynamic workshop presenter with over 20 years of experience providing customized professional development and training for educators. Abe and Kristine break down the 5 ways to make a classroom more student-centered.

Ep. 1 – Show Notes:

Featured lessons discussed on this episode:

Jessica Jones and the Very Real Power of Suggestion

The Physics of the Star Wars BB-8 Droid: How Does it Work?

Star Wars: The Science of Star Killing

Here’s the article written by Marcia Powell that inspired the discussion we had on this podcast.

Here is also the YouTube channel for the amazing teacher Mr. DeMaio and his collection of educational videos. A great example of blended learning!

You can also find out more about Kristine’s amazing work at www.KristineScharaldi.com

How to Build a Real Life Lightsaber

Lightsabers are without a doubt one of the coolest weapons that the Star Wars universe, and science fiction in general, has given us. They hum with the power of the force, they can be used defensively to deflect blaster bolts and can cut through virtually anything from metal doors to your enemy’s body parts. There aren’t many of us out there who don’t know the joy of a flashlight lightsaber duel  or the importance of making the right sound effects!

In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren introduces a new version of this classic weapon, the Crossguard Lightsaber. In doing so, he has reignited the age-old question, how can we create a real world lightsaber that actually works?

The Crystal

Although it is not obvious from looking at the weapon, crystals are an integral part of every lightsaber. According to the Star Wars animated series, The Clone Wars, young Jedi knights go to the planet Ilum to harvest crystals that would be used within the hilt of the lightsabers. In fact, the world’s first solid-state laser, the ruby laser, uses a synthetic ruby crystal for the creation of light.

Given their name, it seems logical to say that lightsabers have blades made from light or at least some type of laser, right? Wrong. While laser technology is constantly improving and lasers can cut through materials, there are several reasons they wouldn’t work as the blade of a lightsaber.

Firstly, the beam would continue on endlessly unless stopped by an obstacle. You could always interrupt a beam with a mirror but not only would that reduce the lightsaber’s effectiveness in battle, you would also lose the elegance of the weapon if you had to add a structure to hold the mirror up.

From a more practical stand-point, several kilo-watts of power would be required to create the type of laser that can cut through metal doors and arms. A laser with this sort of power would require a very large unit to supply the required energy as well as a cooling system to ensure that the user’s hand doesn’t melt off during battle.

Lastly, from a showmanship perspective, a duel between two laser-based lightsabers would be quite a letdown. Instead of clashing into each other, the beams would simply pass through each other and because lasers focus light so sharply, you would only actually be able to see the blade if you were looking directly down the axis of the laser.

Dr. Gianluca Sarri, a lecturer in the school of mathematics and physics at Queen’s University Belfast thinks that the lightsaber’s blades may be made of heated gas. When gas gets extremely hot, so hot that it is broken down into its fundamental components of electrons and nuclei, it forms the fourth state of matter called plasma. The plasma of certain gases when super-heated even give off certain colors, for example, the red and orange of the Sun is made up of hydrogen and helium plasma. If you were a Sith, you would most likely use one of these elements in your lightsaber. Whereas if you were a Jedi with a green lightsaber, you would have chlorine plasma.

While it is unlikely that they will be selling plasma lightsabers alongside the rest of the Star Wars merchandise, it is exciting to know that in theory, we could have a working lightsaber one day. Until then, we’ll just have to keep coming up with our own versions.

The RLL Podcast: Ep. 2 – Deadpool, Star Wars, VR and The Art of Storytelling

Abe and Tharaha are joined by special guests, New York Times notable Author Daniel Jose Older and Teacher extraordinaire Maeve Gavagan to discuss storytelling in the 21st century. We explore the advances in storytelling through different mediums such as print, television, film, video games, virtual reality, social media and even live theatrical experiences. Tharaha lets us know about the newly featured content on NuSkool.com including the teachable moments found in the Deadpool and Star Wars films.

Ep. 2 – Show Notes:

Check out all of the great work mentioned in this episode:

Mama Day by Gloria Naylor

Junot Diaz

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Nueromancer by William Gibson

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Sleep No More

Ernest Hemingway’s Six Word Novel

The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Science of The Force

The Force

What is The Force in the Star Wars universe? Could we as humans, here on planet earth, ever dream of having such power at our fingertips? To answer that we need to look at what The Force is, and how the rules that define it compare to what is known about the world we live in.

“Well, the Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” Obi-Wan Kenobi

In Star Wars, The Force is an energy field that connects all living things in the galaxy. The power of The Force can be used by individuals who are sensitive to it, a power that is tapped through the midi-chlorians.

Midi-chlorians are microscopic, intelligent lifeforms that live within the cells of all living beings in the Star Wars Universe. The Force spoke through the midi-chlorians, allowing certain beings to use the Force if they were sensitive enough to its powers.

The two main practitioners of The Force are the Jedi and the Sith. Usage of the Force grants a number of useful powers, such as the ability to sense impending attacks; to push and lift physical objects; influence the thoughts of others, known as the “Jedi mind trick”; and even see the future or maintain one’s consciousness after death. Dark side users strong with the Force could summon lightning from their fingertips. Jedi taught younglings that the Force could be used for many purposes, including protection, persuasion, wisdom, the manipulation of matter and the performance of great physical feats.

Earth Forces

So, that being said, how does this compare with the laws of physics in our world? The closest thing we have to an energy field that is all around us, is the electromagnetic force.  It is one of the four known fundamental forces and is a type of physical interaction that occurs between electrically charged particles.

The electromagnetic force is the one responsible for practically all the phenomena one encounters in daily life above the nuclear scale, with the exception of gravity. Roughly speaking, all the forces involved in interactions between atoms can be explained by the electromagnetic force acting on the electrically charged atomic nuclei and electrons inside and around the atoms, together with how these particles carry momentum by their movement.

If elevated levels of electromagnetism were directed at certain areas of the brain, this can affect people mentally.  If you direct magnetic fields at different parts of the brain you get all sorts of responses.  They can be used to pacify a subject, make someone hallucinate, can even be used to alter someone’s sense of morality.

Eventually we’ll be able to photograph a dream…it is well within the lines of physics, to photograph a dream.

Science Fiction? Or just Science?

According to physicist, Dr. Michio Kaku, aspects of the force are being developed today.  We can now begin to decipher the outlines of thinking via the electroencephalogram (EEG) and the MRI, which gives us living pictures of thoughts ricocheting like a ping pong ball inside the brain.  We now have computers that can read these thoughts.  In Japan, we even have a device that allows you to see what you are seeing on a small scale – like seeing a memory on a computer screen.  Eventually we’ll be able to photograph a dream, for example.  According to Dr Kaku, it is well within the lines of physics, to photograph a dream.

We can’t exactly use electromagnetism to move people’s bodies at our will, but we know certain parts of the brain are connected to certain parts of the body, and we’ll be able to energize them, perhaps, with electromagnetic radiation.  So we’ll be able to actually manipulate arms and legs of a person, simply by using electromagnetic radiation beamed into the brain.  This technology is very primitive at the present time, but we’re getting there very fast.

If electromagnetic forces are the key to unlocking our own Force like abilities within the rules of physics on earth, then we need something to be able to direct or utilize that force whenever we desire.  There is already an example in nature of a creature that is able to process or read electromagnetism all around it – sharks and other cartilaginous fish.

Sharks have the Ampullae of Lorenzini, electroreceptors that form a network of jelly-filled pores in their nose. This organ allows them to detect the electromagnetic fields of the objects around them.  They can sense great disturbances, like a ship with a large magnetic field, or small ones like a fish they’d like to eat that’s nearby.  Perhaps if we had some biological enhancement, like the Ampullae of Lorenizini, or if midi-chlorians somehow became a real thing, we’d be able to read and understand, maybe even use the electromagnetic forces around us.

What is known about our physical world is fascinating, and the forces that are all around are fantastical in their own right. With understanding, and when taken to the next level through technology and research, our world could be closer to the science fictional world of Star Wars.