Published January 27, 2013
In “Stak Trek,” Federation starships relied upon tractor beams to hold and tow other vessels. Scientists may not be there yet, but they have managed to tow a small particle using light beams.
A team of scientists has created a real-life miniature “tractor beam” – as featured in the Star Trek series – in a development which may lead to more efficient medical testing.
The microscopic beam – created by scientists from Scotland and the Czech Republic – allows a source of light to attract objects.
Light manipulation techniques have existed since the 1970s, but researchers say the experiment is the first instance of a beam being used to draw objects towards light.
Researchers from the University of St Andrews and the Institute of Scientific Instruments (ISI) in the Czech Republic say development of the beam may be an aid to medical testing, such as in the examination of blood samples.
A tractor beam was used to pull in spaceships and other large objects in the popular US science fiction show.
Normally, when matter and light interact, a solid object is pushed by the light and carried away in a stream of photons.
However, in recent years, researchers have realised that there is a space of parameters when this force reverses.
The scientists have now demonstrated the first experimental realisation of the concept.
Professor Pavel Zemanek of the ISI said: “The whole team have spent a number of years investigating various configurations of particles delivery by light.
“I am proud our results were recognised in this very competitive environment and I am looking forward to new experiments and applications. It is a very exciting time.”
Dr Oto Brzobohaty, also of the ISI, said: “These methods are opening new opportunities for fundamental phonics as well as applications for life-sciences.”