A research team at Australian National University has announced a device that can move small particles a meter and a half using only the power of light. In short, a tractor beam.
Andrei Rhode, one of the researchers on the project, noted that while others have created optical tweezers that can move bacterium-sized particles in liquid a few millimeters, his tractor beam can move objects over one hundred times the size of a bacterium over far greater relative distances.
How does Andrei Rhode's tractor beam work?
The tractor beam works by shining a hollow laser beam around tiny glass particles. The laser heats up the surrounding air while whatever's at the center of the beam stays cool. The air temperature differences caused by the laser are enough to keep the particles inside the center of the beam when they start to drift out.
A secondary, smaller amount of laser light enters the middle part of the hollow beam to heat the air on one side of the particle and move it around. If a second laser is aimed at the opposite side of the hollow tractor laser, the speed and direction of the particles can be changed depending on the beams' brightness settings.
How close is that tractor beam to what we saw on Star Trek?
Since Australian National University's tractor beam requires air to work, it will not function in space. However, that doesn't mean it's useless.
Andrei Rhode pointed out that their method could be used to move objects as far as 10 meters. While that doesn't seem much longer, even 1.5 meters is more than long enough to expand on the laser tweezer concept. The tractor beam Rhode's team developed could be used to transport dangerous substances and microbes, sample taking, and biomedical research.
FOXNews quoted David McGloin, a physicist at the University of Dundee, Scotland, saying that the tractor beams could be used to carry chemical delivery agents, but that more research would be necessary to see if the heat generated by the tractor beams would affect the items in the glass spheres.
Will the tractor beam ever mean anything to the average person?
This technology is so new, it's hard to judge what impact it might have. The biomedical research might bring about new drugs and drug delivery systems. Work with microbes and dangerous substances could make some experiments easier to perform and thus bring about new information sooner.
Unfortunately, unless the cost of running a tractor beam ever becomes commercially viable, the odds are you'll still have to use a trailer hitch to attach your car to your RV when you go on vacation.
Article Â©2010 Brenda Daverin for Gather.com. All rights reserved.