Tractor beams have been a staple of science fiction for a long time now. From classic genre literature to Star Wars, Star Trek, and so many other familiar properties, the idea of a device that can attract an object from across a great distance has played an integral part in our speculative endeavors. Widely regarded as a piece of fringe physics lore, tractor beams may now be getting a little more science and a little less fiction. Emphasis, in this case, on the “little.”
A group of scientists from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and the Institute of Scientific Instruments in the Czech Republic have created a miniaturized version of the light beam able to draw an item towards the light source. Don’t get too excited at the prospect yet, because the device only works on the most microscopic level. But still, that’s a huge step. Being able to pull your enemies towards you is only a matter of time.
The researchers have “found a way to generate a special optical field that efficiently reverses radiation pressure of light.” Under normal circumstances, when light and matter collide, the solid object is pushed away by the stream of photons. The group, led by Dr. Tomas Cizmar of St. Andrews, and Dr. Oto Brzobohaty and Professor Pavel Zemanek, both of ISI, created a method that creates “negative force” on particles, thus drawing them in instead of pushing them away.
While most of our minds go directly to sci-fi, the most practical applications for this technology lie in the field of medical testing, specifically when it comes to examining blood samples, and sorting and organizing on a cellular level.