(By, Kevin Le)
From Star Trek to the Fantastic Four, sci-fi films and comics have almost always featured force fields at some point. In Star Trek, the tide of battle could be measured by the vulnerability of their force fields – the more power the force fields lose, the more the Enterprise suffers. Yet, for a concept so basic – a thin, invisible, and impenetrable barrier capable of deflecting any manner of weaponry – the creation of force fields is deceptively simple. Originating with Faraday’s lines of force, militaries across the world are funding research for the creation of force fields. However, much of the progress made has only created pseudo force fields – force fields which are not barriers, but instead use super capacitors to create a discharge which repels incoming firearms. On the other hand, recreating the force field of science fiction would require making a transparent, multi-layered shield, with each layer serving a different purpose.
Outer Layer: Supercharged Plasma Window
In 1995 at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, New York, physicist Ady Herschcovitch invented the plasma window – a window which traps plasma using electric and magnetic fields – to find a way to separate a vacuum from ordinary air. Although plasma windows are typically used in space travel and industry processes which require a separation between a vacuum and ordinary air, it is important to note that plasma, the fourth state of matter of which the Sun and stars are made up of, is essentially super-heated gas. As the outer layer, a supercharged plasma window would be able to completely vaporize metals, including bullets or even cannonballs, without harming the individual.
Second Layer: High-Energy Laser Curtain
Light Amplification by Simulated Emissions of Radiation, or lasers, was invented in 1959 by several scientists. As the name implies, lasers work by amplifying and concentrating the energy of light using radiation emissions. By creating a curtain of thousands of crisscrossing high-energy laser beams, it would be possible to vaporize objects which somehow made it through the plasma window through this amplification of energy.
Third Layer: Carbon Nanotubes
Carbon nanotubes are tiny tubes one atom thick, and are made entirely of carbon atoms. Several times stronger than steel, carbon nanotubes are extremely difficult to make and the longest carbon nanotube in the world is only about 15 millimeters long. However, the technology is already out there – the only issue is finding a way to manufacture longer sheets of carbon nanotubes. Assuming that carbon nanotubes can be woven into a lattice much like regular string, a screen of enormous strength could be constructed. Yet although creating a multi-layered force field using plasma windows, high energy laser curtains, and carbon nanotubes is effective against physical entities, there is still one thing it would not be capable of stopping: laser beams. Due to the high-energy frequencies of the plasma and laser curtain, and the atomic size of the carbon nanotubes, the force field would be transparent. This means that laser beams, which are still a form of light, could pass through the force field. To resolve this, an advanced form of photochromatics – the technology used in glasses that become dark upon exposure to UV radiation – would be needed. Unfortunately, a form of photocromatics capable of stopping laser beams has not been developed yet.
Although force fields are far from being invented, many scientists and physicists believe force fields will be possible within the 21st century. The implications of a photochromatic plasma laser nanotube force field is obvious in terms of the military and security in general. Yet, creating force fields by manipulating Faraday’s lines of force would have the same effect on society now as Edison’s light bulb did so many years ago. Bridges could be constructed at the touch of a button, and whole cities could be generated using force field-based skyscrapers and buildings. At the moment, the most conceivable way of achieving this would be through magnetic levitation. But, that still brings up the question as to how to control Faraday’s lines of force to the extent where reliable infrastructure could be built instantaneously. The answer, some believe, lies in superconductivity, or the elimination of electric resistance (to learn more about this, check out the ‘How Things Work’ section).
“Given these considerations, I would classify force fields as a Class I impossibility – that is, something that is impossible by today’s technology, but possible, in modified form, within a century or so.” – Michio Kaku, renowned theoretical physicist