Light throws a curve ball

Sep 29, 2008
The image shows an animation of the Airy beam working as a snowblower conveying particles from one compartment to another.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers at the University of St Andrews have made a surprise discovery using light beams that can travel around corners.

The academics have developed the concept of moving particles within light beams that follow curves rather than go along straight lines building on their work in the area of optical manipulation.

Professor Kishan Dholakia of the School of Physics and Astronomy commented, "Physics holds many surprises; our understanding of how light moves and behaves is challenged by such beams and it is exciting to see them move into the interdisciplinary arena - light has thrown us a curve ball.

"A standard beam of light spreads as it travels due to the wave effect known as diffraction. Take a laser pointer - even that would be 100km wide if this light beam were to reach the moon.

"Our research has shown that certain light beams do not diffract or spread - they can travel around corners and propel particles round corners. This is a new discovery in the phenomenon of light moving particles."

Thirty years ago scientists found that the Airy beam, named after the famous British astronomer Sir George Airy, had a mathematical parallel in optics. Recently, it was discovered that the beam actually 'bends' or curves as the beam moves through space unlike a laser pointer, for example.

The St Andrews team have now taken things much further by utilising this unusual curving property of Airy beams to send particles literally around curves and corners, sweeping aside or 'clearing' particles within a sample chamber.

Team member Joerg Baumgartl said, "The Airy beam allows us to clear a sample chamber without any moving light fields: in essence it acts like a small snow-blower for microscopic glass particles and even cells. It could have major applications in microfluidic engineering and cell biology."

The findings of Joerg Baumgartl, Michael Mazilu and Kishan Dholakia in the School of Physics and Astronomy are published in the latest edition of the journal Nature Photonics.

The team are now exploring a number of new avenues with these light fields including intriguing new particle sorting as well as possible methods for separating chosen cells from a given population.

"This beam shows a wonderful example of how an elegant but perhaps obscure mathematical discovery in quantum mechanics has powerful analogies to laser beams and in turn leads to important new applications for science," said Michael Mazilu.

Provided by University of St Andrews

Explore further: How bubble studies benefit science and engineering

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

What time is it in the universe?

Aug 29, 2014

Flavor Flav knows what time it is. At least he does for Flavor Flav. Even with all his moving and accelerating, with the planet, the solar system, getting on planes, taking elevators, and perhaps even some ...

Recommended for you

New method for non-invasive prostate cancer screening

4 hours ago

Cancer screening is a critical approach for preventing cancer deaths because cases caught early are often more treatable. But while there are already existing ways to screen for different types of cancer, ...

How bubble studies benefit science and engineering

5 hours ago

The image above shows a perfect bubble imploding in weightlessness. This bubble, and many like it, are produced by the researchers from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland. What ...

Famous Feynman lectures put online with free access

6 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Back in the early sixties, physicist Richard Feynman gave a series of lectures on physics to first year students at Caltech—those lectures were subsequently put into print and made into text ...

Single laser stops molecular tumbling motion instantly

10 hours ago

In the quantum world, making the simple atom behave is one thing, but making the more complex molecule behave is another story. Now Northwestern University scientists have figured out an elegant way to stop a molecule from ...

User comments : 15

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Bazz
3.4 / 5 (10) Sep 29, 2008
But the important question they dont answer, how long before i get my light saber?
Roach
3.7 / 5 (6) Sep 29, 2008
More importantly, how long till I can get a laser gun that can shoot around corners?

Or... a laser microphone that doesn't require line of sight?

Or a Narrow bean radio like microwave, radar or lidar that doesn't require line of sight. Whole new level in stealth vehicles. Casting shadows from impossible directions. "Sir, we have the enemy F22 on our radar, he's coming at us from under ground."
sleidia
2.2 / 5 (18) Sep 29, 2008
You guys are americans, right?
Nothing else than weapons matters to you?
jeffsaunders
5 / 5 (4) Sep 29, 2008
ok this is definitely weird.

or so it seemed until I looked it up.

I remember reading about this type of light a while back. The light doesn't actually travel around corners at all that is an over simplification of what is going on.
zevkirsh
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 30, 2008
if light travelled around corners i could kick you in the nuts but actually i would just be kicking what looks like an image of your nuts to me, but you would actually be around the corner. this opens many possibilities.
phystic
1 / 5 (1) Sep 30, 2008
hmmm interesting
PraedSt
4 / 5 (4) Sep 30, 2008
You guys are americans, right?
Nothing else than weapons matters to you?


Give it a rest.
Doug_Huffman
5 / 5 (1) Sep 30, 2008
Weapons are the bleeding edge of the difference between First World nations and the also ran cultures. Technology is the cutting edge and manufacturing is the 'back' of the blade. All is sharpened by finance and education. See where the weaknesses lie?
Bazz
4 / 5 (4) Sep 30, 2008
No i am dutch.Dikes matter a lot here.
gmurphy
not rated yet Sep 30, 2008
jeff, could you post up the links to the material explaining Airy beams?, I can't find anything very clear on the web, thanks.
earls
not rated yet Sep 30, 2008
this kinda helped me.

http://focus.aps....v20/st19
skerns
not rated yet Sep 30, 2008
Why is it that the example pics in this article and the ones linked here http://focus.aps....v20/st19 are all animations or computer simulations? Is this just theory or is it real?
bmerc
5 / 5 (2) Sep 30, 2008
You guys are americans, right?
Nothing else than weapons matters to you?


I think you are selling Americans short. Other things that matter to us are sausage, cold beer, fast cars, loose women, and lets not forget guns, oh wait that is what started the whole thing.

So tell us what nationality you are so we can comment on what must matter to you.

superhuman
not rated yet Oct 01, 2008
This is a poorly written article (as usual), but google has plenty of info (also as usual).
Theres also an earlier better article about it on physorg: http://www.physor...629.html

The light still travels as usual but complex interference between various parts of the beam (which has a specially prepared shape) leads to a bent trajectory of the beam as a whole.
QubitTamer
not rated yet Oct 03, 2008
Can it just push particles around? what about being used as a carrier for an injected stream of densely ionized gas... See where i am going with this? once you can transmit a focused beam of ionized gas you can then send a huge charge of electricity down said beam and zap the daylights out of whatever the beam is touching...

Or you could use the bendable property to loop the tube of ionized gas back into the transmission device and have yourself... you guessed it... Light Sabre. W00t.