Czech Scientists Create A Real-Life Tractor Beam

Although we remember Will Shatner’s constant womanizing and a stream of aliens that are all somehow humanoid, it was the technology of Star Trek that really blew our minds. Starships, omniscient computers, and medical sensing equipment all seemed impossible in the 1960’s but we’ve seen versions of them come to pass already.

Now, a team of scientists from Scotland and the Czech Republic are manipulating light in such a way that a concentrated ray draws objects toward it, just like the Enterprise’s tractor beam.

Star Trek, tractor beam, light

Image via adurdin/Flickr

While the results are promising (read more about the study in Nature Photonics) they’re pretty small scale. In fact they’re microscopic. Normally when matter and light interact the solid object is pushed by the light and carried away in the stream of photons. Researchers from the University of St. Andrews and the Institute of Scientific Instruments (ISI) in the Czech Republic have found a way to generate a special optical field that efficiently reverses radiation pressure of light, notes Gizmag.

The scientists at St. Andrews and ISI recently captured the first experimental realization of this concept on camera. In the video featured here, you can see the optical sorting of micro-objects. The team also 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.

“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,” said lead researcher Dr. Tomas Cizmar.

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog