Physicists build ‘Holy Grail’ tractor beam

20 Oct 2014

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Star Trek actor George Takei

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Star Trek fans are rejoicing as researchers at the Australian National University revealed the development of a tractor beam dubbed the “holy grail for laser physicists” that can repel and attract objects.

While it’s not quite the power of the Starship Enterprise’s beam – which could be used to control the movements of other spacecraft – researchers at the Australian National University in Canberra said the laser can cause particles one-fifth of a millimetre in diametre to move up to 20 centimetres. That’s about 100 times further than previous experiments.

The hollow beam, which is bright around the edges and dark in its centre, works by heating up particles and the air around them, causing the movement.

“Demonstration of a large-scale laser beam like this is a kind of holy grail for laser physicists,” said Prof Wieslaw Krolikowski, from the universitys Research School of Physics and Engineering.

According to the team, the process could be replicated on a larger scale. “Because lasers retain their beam quality for such long distances, this could work over metres,” said report co-author Dr Vladlen Shvedov. “Our lab just was not big enough to show it.”

The work is published in the science journal Nature Photonics. Developers say the technology could be used to help control atmospheric pollution.

George Takei image via Shutterstock

Dean is a freelance journalist and editor covering media.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com