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Scientists Create Working Tractor Beam Using a Pair of Lasers

The Future Is Now!

Four for you, science. You go, science. David Ruffner and David Grier of New York University have come up with a workable design for a tractor beam that might eventually allow us to reel in spaceships à la Stars Trek and Wars—though a more reasonable short-term goal is moving samples of dust or atmosphere from other worlds to a robot for analysis. Still, that’s pretty cool, right?

The set-up constructed by Ruffner and Grier (or the Davids) uses a type of laser called a Bessel beam, which emits light in concentric rings. By projecting two Bessel beams side-by-side and angling them against each other with a lens, the Davids have been able to make photons jump between the “bright regions” created by the beams, thereby moving upwards toward the laser’s source.

The tractor beam is still in its very early stages—the New Scientist reports that it can “move microscopic silica spheres suspended in water over distances of around 30 micrometres,” which doesn’t sound super-impressive—but it still represents a giant advance in tractor beam technology. Earlier proposed versions either A) wouldn’t be able to function in space or B) have never actually been made to work at all.

And it looks like the tractor beam already has a fan. From New Scientist:

“NASA contacted us,” says Ruffner. “They were wondering, can we put this on a space probe and get dust from a comet?” It is possible, he says, but not any time soon. “This is still very much in its infancy.”

I’m looking forward to the day when everyone can have their own personal tractor beam. I’d love to be able to get things from across the room without having to get up. What can I say, I can be lazy.

(via: New Scientist)

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