Minister Ina Brandes attends a zdi lightsaber course

May MINT be with you!

What does science fiction have to do with MINT and what role does zdi play in it? Minister Ina Brandes was able to visit the zdi center Lippe.MINT convince of: In the Easter holiday course there "Build your own lightsaber“ The combination of science fiction and career orientation works really well!

The photo shows a group of people, including many students. Minister Ina Brandes is in the front center. She is holding a blue glowing lightsaber.
Participants of the zdi lightsaber course, including Amelie (centre), together with (from left to right): District Administrator Dr. Axel Lehmann, Minister Ina Brandes, Markus Rempe, Head of the Education District Lippe, Course Instructor Kai Lenski, Carsten Kießler, Head of the zdi network Lippe.MINT

What looks like a basic course in apprenticeships such as electrical engineering, cutting machine operator or electronics technician is actually a career-orientated holiday course. The course participants follow in the footsteps of their science fiction heroes and create their own lightsaber - not from crystals and power, but from metal and STEM!


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Tangible enthusiasm for technology

Minister Ina Brandes smiles broadly. She is holding a blue glowing lightsaber. Next to her is student Amelie, who is also smiling.

"I think the lightsaber course at zdi-Zentrum Lippe.MINT is a wonderful example of how you can get young people excited about technology in a playful way and with science fiction," says Ina Brandes, Minister for Culture and Science of North Rhine-Westphalia. Together with the NRW regional directorate of the Federal Employment Agency, the NRW Ministry of Science makes the course possible via the zdi-BSO-MINT funding program. This means that young people can take part in the course free of charge. Pupil Amelie, who was able to show Minister Brandes the various work steps on site, is also grateful for this. She is professionally interested in engineering and is therefore happy about the insights into technical product design: the course participants create a sketch of their very own lightsaber hilt and then implement it.

From fiction to reality

Lightsabers already had a symbolic character in Star Wars. They should bring an air of honor to the Jedi Knights, for they are "Not as clumsy and as inaccurate as firearms. An elegant weapon from civilized days.” That's what Obi-Wan Kenobi calls the lightsaber he hands over to Luke Skywalker in Episode IV: A New Hope. The way the lightsaber is carried and wielded, how it feels in the hand and what is connected to the sword is correspondingly important. So the question "What would a 'real' lightsaber blade be made of?" seems to have less meaning than the question "How do I make my lightsaber unique?". Initially, an emotional aspect is in the foreground, which should facilitate access to practical knowledge.

Lightsaber learner

Carsten Kießler is also aware of this effect. The head of the zdi center Lippe.MINT remembers how the course came about: “The idea for the course came from my private passion for Star Wars, but also from the idea that you need a good learning medium to impart knowledge in a sustainable way can. With us, this learning medium is the lightsaber. And then you have to think: How can I implement a topic that interests young people in vocational training? Which job descriptions can I depict and how?”

Together with the "lightsaber learning medium", the knowledge acquired about production - from technical product design to machining and electronics to plastics processing - would be much more likely to be taken home. "We also use the method behind this idea very successfully in other projects, for example in the area of ​​3D printing," says Kießler. The zdi center Lippe.MINT has been offering the course since 2018 and is a pioneer in a lively exchange with other actors in the NRW-wide zdi community. In addition, course participants can MINTMACHCLUB.lip of the Lüttfeld vocational college to collect STEM points. In this ERDF-funded Project, you can collect MINT points from the age of four and redeem them for prizes. Schoolgirl Amelie can also get 25 points by taking part in the course.

The quality has to be right

In addition to a good learning medium and an exciting topic, the pedagogical concept must also be right, as media educator Kai Lenski knows. For nine years he has been making lightsabers as individual commissions in his "first Saberstore in Germany“ and was involved in the conception of the course from the very beginning. So that there is no conflict between expectations and reality, the course concept is adapted to the participants and there are always enough supervisors on site to be able to provide appropriate support.

“Some young people only realize how much work they have to put into the lightsaber during the course. Here we patiently guide so that in the end everyone gets exactly the lightsaber they had in mind,” says Lenski. A good quality of the lightsabers is also important in order to be able to embody the symbolic character that was so important to Obi-Wan Kenobi: "That's why our lightsabers are not just made of plastic, but solid, stable and valuable."

The photo shows a group of 15 young people with their brightly colored lightsabers.

The science behind lightsabers

Lightsabers aren't just something for the 15 Padawans attending the zdi course in Lemgo. Researchers from a wide range of disciplines are questioning how the Jedi Knights' luminous combat devices work. And has been since 1977 when the first Star Wars film flickered across cinema screens. Scientists agree that the blades of lightsabers cannot be made of light or lasers. According to one theory, the blades could be made of plasma. The particle mixture of free charge carriers is also referred to as the "fourth state of aggregation" and on the one hand gives off a lot of heat, on the other hand it could be shaped by an electromagnetic field - both properties that the lightsabers in the film have.

Luke Willcocks, a student at the University of Leicester at the time, calculated the immense power that could be contained in a lightsaber[I]: In a thought experiment, he determined the power of a lightsaber based on the speed at which the weapon can cut a hole in a metal door. According to this calculation, the lightsaber has an impressive 6,96 megawatts – which roughly corresponds to the nominal output of a wind turbine.

The lightsabers that are to be built in Lemgo do not contain around seven megawatts, but the technology behind them is always state-of-the-art. “There is a large market for lightsabers, especially in the USA. The technology used there is also constantly being further developed, for example the soundboards used. We use individual LEDs here in the course to make the sword light up. However, you can also use LED strips, so you can even adjust the extension of the illuminated blade,” reports Kai Lenski enthusiastically.

The photo shows four lightsabers made in the course, lying on stands made of acrylic glass in the course. The blades glow in shades of orange, green, pink, and orange.

How fiction and reality influence each other

That the success of Star Wars-Franchise contributes to the success of the zdi course, no one doubts the organizers and the participants. The thrill of holding your own lightsaber in your hands was the biggest motivation for the young people in grades seven to eleven to register for the course. However, there was also a basic joy in manual work for most of them.

surveys[ii] among students and teachers have already shown that science fiction - and above all the Star Wars franchise - can have an effect on the perception of science. But not only the perception of science is influenced, scientists themselves are inspired by the visions of science fiction authors.

A 2018 study conducted by the University of Hawaii[iii] was able to show that science fiction plays an inspiring role, at least in the research area of ​​human-technology interaction. The number of scientific publications relating to science fiction increased steadily between 1982 and 2017 and even increased almost tenfold.

Science fiction has inspired science for centuries

When you think of submarines, you think of Jule Verne's "20.000 Leagues Under the Sea" and his Nautilus, after which, among other things, the first nuclear submarine was named. However, the first submarines appeared much earlier: in 1666 Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, published "The Glistening World". The work is now regarded as a forerunner of science fiction and describes a utopian world in which the submarines are more reminiscent of carriages.

Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle
Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle

HG Wells' 1898 book "War of the Worlds" motivated Robert Goddard to study physics. The rocket engines he developed made modern space travel possible in the first place.

Green and sustainable urban development was already a topic in the short story "Sultana's Dream" by the Bengali writer Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain, published in 1905: In the utopian, feminist "Ladyland", all devices run on solar power, asphalt has been replaced by green areas and water is obtained directly from the atmosphere – not to mention flying electric cars.

Statue of Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain, known as Begum Rokeya. Copyright: Ragib Rownak Shanti, CC 4.0

As early as 1964, the science fiction author and physicist Arthur C. Clarke gave a very precise description of our modern networked society in a BBC interview.


Science fiction can be less about how technology works and more about what it does to us and how it affects our lives. This idea is also adopted by the method of science fiction prototyping. The methods of science fiction authors are used to create new product ideas or to further develop entire companies and their structures. A rather emotional rather than a technical approach is created. This makes the technology accessible to a broader mass of people. If a first interest is aroused, this can be deepened on a more technical level. For example when building a lightsaber!

[I] Willcocks, Luke. (2017). Calculating The Power Output of Qui-Gon Jin's Lightsaber. Journal of Interdisciplinary Science Topics. 6. (Retrieved 19.07.2022-XNUMX-XNUMX)

[ii] Petit, M.F. & Solbes, Jordi. (2012). Science fiction and the teaching of science. Ensenanza de las Ciencias. 30. 55-72. 10.5565/rev/ec/v30n2.494.(Retrieved 20.07.2022-XNUMX-XNUMX)

[iii] Jordan, Philipp & Mubin, Omar & Obaid, Mohammad & Silva, Paula Alexandra. (2018). Exploring the Referral and Usage of Science Fiction in HCI Literature. (Retrieved 14.07.2022-XNUMX-XNUMX)  

This post was first published in June 2022 published and reprinted here in an updated form and supplemented with new information.

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