Star Trek's 'tractor' beam created in miniature by researchers

Jan 25, 2013
Star Trek's 'tractor' beam created in miniature by researchers
Within the experimental system, light beam is converted into a pulling device, that gathers micro-objects just like when using a chain.

(Phys.org)—A team of scientists from Scotland and the Czech Republic has created a real-life "tractor" beam, as featured in the Star Trek movies, which for the first time allows a beam of light to attract objects.

Although light manipulation techniques have existed since the 1970s, this is the first time a has been used to draw objects towards the , albeit at a .

Researchers from the University of St Andrews and the Institute of (ISI) in the Czech Republic have found a way to generate a special optical field that efficiently reverses of light.

The new technique could lead to more efficient medical testing, such as in the examination of .

In the US science fiction show, a was a method of using a which could pull space-ships and other large objects towards the source of the light.

The team, led by Dr Tomas Cizmar, Research Fellow in the School of Medicine at the University of St Andrews, with Dr Oto Brzobohaty and Professor Pavel Zemanek, both of ISI, discovered a technique which will allow them to provide 'negative' force acting upon minuscule particles.

Normally when matter and light interact the solid object is pushed by the light and carried away in the stream of photons.

Such radiation force was first identified by Johanes Kepler when observing that tails of comets point away from the sun.

Over recent years researchers have realised that while this is the case for most of the optical fields, there is a space of parameters when this force reverses.

The scientists at St Andrews and ISI have now demonstrated the first experimental realisation of this concept together with a number of exciting applications for bio-medical photonics and other disciplines.

The exciting aspect is that the occurrence of negative force is very specific to the properties of the object, such as size and composition.

This in turn allows optical sorting of micro-objects in a simple and inexpensive device. Over the last decade optical fractionation has been identified as one of the most promising bio-medical applications of optical manipulation allowing, for example, sorting of macromolecules, organelles or cells.

Interestingly, the scientists identified certain conditions, in which objects held by the "tractor" beam force-field, re-arranged themselves to form a structure which made the beam even stronger.

Dr Cizmar said: "Because of the similarities between optical and acoustic particle manipulation we anticipate that this concept will provide inspiration for exciting future studies in areas outside the field of photonics."

Dr Brzobohaty said: "These methods are opening new opportunities for fundamental phonics as well as applications for life-sciences."

Professor Zemanek 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."

Explore further: Thermoelectric power plants could offer economically competitive renewable energy

More information: www.nature.com/nphoton/journal… photon.2012.332.html

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User comments : 18

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Smellyhat
4.2 / 5 (5) Jan 25, 2013
"Interestingly, the scientists identified certain conditions, in which objects held by the "tractor" beam force-field, re-arranged themselves to form a structure which made the beam even stronger."

Yes, that would have been interesting to read about.
antialias_physorg
3.4 / 5 (5) Jan 25, 2013
Yes, that would have been interesting to read about.

Follow the link. There's a paywall, but the last picture of the previews shows an example configuration.
omerbashich
Jan 25, 2013
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
PJS
4.8 / 5 (17) Jan 25, 2013
no stars for you
PatrickW
not rated yet Jan 25, 2013
This sounds similar the physics of levitating objects with sound. Is there a golden ratio of " wavelength provided by the light : wavelength of the objects energy" that causes this attraction towards the beam source?
omerbashich
1.3 / 5 (13) Jan 25, 2013
no stars for you

But boo hoo!
omerbashich
1.4 / 5 (18) Jan 25, 2013
This sounds similar the physics of levitating objects with sound. Is there a golden ratio of " wavelength provided by the light : wavelength of the objects energy" that causes this attraction towards the beam source?

Yes the golden ratio is the gravitational resonance of 369.2 but they are hiding it, just like Wineland and Haroche tried to hide it (oops). Once I derived it, the "ingenioahs westernahs" keep stealing it: http://newsblaze....ory.html
Osiris1
1.1 / 5 (7) Jan 25, 2013
This is a start. Let us now refine it and increase power to see how strong this can be, and how narrowly focusable! The day of gigawatt beams that can levitate very large objects from space may be closer than one thinks. Chinese read these pages too. They are willing to spend money on hard science that has military applications, and a tractor beam would be a very nice piece of equipment on a space station. For one thing, lost spacemen whose tether broke or whatever could be retrieved, and also lost tools retrieved before they became space junk. Lets hear it for other constructive uses now that a proof of principle has been now demonstrated.
FrankHerbert
2.6 / 5 (17) Jan 25, 2013
So omerbashich, I'm assuming you invented the tractor beam and are angry it was stolen from you? Just like the Higgs boson and the Nobel prize that goes with it?

You wouldn't happen to know anything about neutron repulsion, would you?
ivo_dekeijzer
1.6 / 5 (7) Jan 25, 2013
Wow. This is wonderful. Haha. Makes you wonder. Does Star Trek needs rewriting now the first Tractor Beam is developed in Europe? I remember this episode were Trip says to a Vulcan Commander (after being Saved) if he could see their wonderful Tractor Beam specs (So humans can copy it).
Argiod
1.4 / 5 (11) Jan 25, 2013
Wow. This is wonderful. Haha. Makes you wonder. Does Star Trek needs rewriting now the first Tractor Beam is developed in Europe? I remember this episode were Trip says to a Vulcan Commander (after being Saved) if he could see their wonderful Tractor Beam specs (So humans can copy it).


Indeed, the best inventions of humans are direct copies of what nature has done for billions of years. Goes to show there really is nothing new in the universe. And in our quest for that God-like power to create something from nothing, we mess up what is already well designed and balanced. Then we wonder why we're dying in our own swill... Time to re-think humanity, and see if nature can come up with something better.
_ichard_treeter
1.5 / 5 (8) Jan 25, 2013
If small number of Scientists with a Low Budget Lab Create a Tractor Beam... Think About What Area 51 already has... Think about what an ET can do to Abduct people
Anda
2.7 / 5 (7) Jan 25, 2013
So omerbashich, I'm assuming you invented the tractor beam and are angry it was stolen from you? Just like the Higgs boson and the Nobel prize that goes with it?

You wouldn't happen to know anything about neutron repulsion, would you?


Seems he's in a site he doesn't like and where he's not liked... "Repulsive one"
antialias_physorg
3.7 / 5 (7) Jan 26, 2013
If small number of Scientists with a Low Budget Lab Create a Tractor Beam... Think About What Area 51 already has...

The thing about science that most people don't understand: More money doesn't necessarily mean more inventiveness. Inventiveness happens in the brains of scientists. Throwing more money at a scientist doesn't make him/her more inventive.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (6) Jan 26, 2013
I don't think, that the pulling effect of tractor beam is something very new (1, 2). They were already created for melanine particles in the air and now this finding was replicated under the microscope for nanospheres. Yes, they observed some self-arranging effects during this, but essentially it's just another version of notoriously known optical tweezer technology, which is around here for many years. You needn't very expensive equipment for to demonstrate it.
Valentiinro
1.8 / 5 (5) Jan 27, 2013
Wow. This is wonderful. Haha. Makes you wonder. Does Star Trek needs rewriting now the first Tractor Beam is developed in Europe? I remember this episode were Trip says to a Vulcan Commander (after being Saved) if he could see their wonderful Tractor Beam specs (So humans can copy it).


Well, even if we have a proof of concept or dinky example, that doesn't mean the Vulcans couldn't have something way better and worth seeing the specs for. I think they are safe from rewrites for now.
SteveL
3 / 5 (4) Jan 27, 2013
@ omerbashich: Let me guess, the "ash" is silent?

@ ivo dekeijzer: Determining something can actually be done can consume a lot of time and resources. After you know something has already been done, duplicating the results is much easier.

@ ichard treeter: You either overestimate government competence or underestimate government's ability to hinder its own progress. Without everyone staring over each other's shoulder and excessive government oversight a smaller more nimble lab team can often be far more productive.
dan42day
2.5 / 5 (11) Jan 28, 2013
I tried pulling my wife's Altima out of a ditch with the headlights on my Ford pickup...finally gave up and used the winch.
SteveL
not rated yet Jan 30, 2013
You shoulda known.... You can't get synchronicity and photonic pair bonding from disparately produced photonic emitters. It just won't happen.

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