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Tractor beam a reality

Scientists move particles with light beams

Scientists at St Andrews University have developed a Star Trek-style tractor beam which can reach out, trap and move objects.

For now the beam can only move microscopic particles, 100 times thinner than a strand of human hair, so scientists are a fair way off the ship-moving powers of science fiction tractor beams.

"We've only just begun to realise the possibilities for what we might do with this technology," said Dr Dholakia, who headed the project.

Researchers have used so-called optical twist technology, in which particles trapped in a tightly focused laser beam can be moved from one spot to the other, to insert genes into cells. The ability to rotate objects as well would make their job far easier, something Dr Dholakia's team has achieved with a spiral of lasers.

"Our technique is potentially more applicable than others. We've rotated several different structures to show the range of things we can do," said Dr Dholakia. "The beauty of our technique is that we can dictate how far we want the spiral pattern to go round and at what speed."

Picture from St Andrews University's Ultrashort-Pulse Laser Research Group website


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