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How 30 years of Star Wars technology changed lives forever

By Rodney Gedda, TechWorld
December 18, 2008 09:46 AM ET

TechWorld - If you saw the first Star Wars film in 1978 you would have been dazzled by the awe inspiring technology the protagonists took for granted. Thirty years later and many of the film's forward-looking ideas -- from videoconferencing and mobile communications to robotics and bionics -- are being used in our daily lives.

During the next four months Sydney's Powerhouse Museum is playing host to one of the largest collection of Star Wars memorabilia combined with real-life examples of how such technology is being applied for business and social advancement.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

The museum's computing and mathematics curator Matthew Connell helped develop the exhibition and, while not a self-confessed Star Wars aficionado, is very interested in comparing the science fiction to today's science fact.

Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination, took a year to set up in Australia and this is the first time it has travelled outside of the US. It was originally developed four years ago at the Museum of Science in Boston in conjunction with Lucasfilm.

"Unlike some of our staff and curators, I don't have a Storm Trooper outfit," Connell said. "We had another Star Wars exhibition here some time ago and that was about the making of the film and that sort of thing. This is particularly different from that and while it has some artifacts in common, it is specifically about our shared understanding of this well-known movie and how this futuristic world can be used to stimulate thought about our future and how we might go and how science might get us there."

The exhibition covers a number of core themes from the Star Wars universe and compares the technology to what humans have engineered or a attempting to develop.

"For me, science fiction presents a vast array of questions," Connell said. "I probably spoil it for some people, but I can't help but look at this stuff and say 'why are they screaming in space?'. I always love seeing how things are represented in these movies because I like to point my physics brain at it and say 'hang on, is that right?'."


The exhibition starts with the juxtaposition of the Millennium Falcon, which can travel between galaxies effortlessly, and our own forms of space travel.

"We are not quite there yet," Connell said. "We can send things out, but people have been thinking about interstellar travel for a long time."

"These are models made by Industrial Light and Magic and some others are being proposed for how we might travel between the vast, vast, distances of interstellar space. How we will have enough fuel for it, in particular, is one of the big issues."

Some of the exhibits are based on real scientific concepts, but there is "just a little bit" of engineering to be done for it to become reality.

"There are models of ramjets that harvest the Hydrogen in deep space to power them," Connell said. But those harvesting shields would need to be several kilometers across. Since a structure like that could not be launched it would have to be built in space and that would take more money than anyone has at the moment."

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