Scottish Researchers Toy With Real Tractor Beam, Warn Against Use on Starships
January 25, 2013 2:51 PM
comment(s) - last by
While technique would likely destroy starships, researchers envision using the technique on cells
Dr. Tomas Cizmar
, a research fellow in
School of Medicine
University of St Andrews
in Scotland, is hopeful that one day tiny tractor beams could be used to sort certain kinds of cells (say separate white blood cells from the blood stream) or arrange tiny circuit components.
Today a technique called
, which relies on the electromagnetic characteristics of laser beams, is commonly used to position cells and other small microscopic or nanoscopic objects. Other similar techniques billed as "tractor beams"
commonly use heating of a gas
or other phenomena to shuffle particles. By contrast, the new "tractor beam" techniques directly rely on the momentum transfer of photons hitting an object to either "push" or "pull" it through space.
The momentum transfer, also known as "optical forces", was first observed by German astronomer Johannes Kepler in 1619, who observed that comet tails always pointed away from the sun and hypothesized that sunlight must confirm some force onto the particles in the comet wake.
Such forces typically pushed objects in the direction of the photon stream. But recently theoretical studies hypothesized that under highly specific conditions objects could actually be pulled against the photon stream using a combination of two or more lasers.
The two laser tractoring mechanism (left) could one day be used to sort cells, which Dr. Cizmar's group is currently performing micro-needle waveguide experiments on (right).
[Image Source: St. Andrews]
U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration
announced $100,000 USD in funding
to study the phenomenon, which they hoped could be used to gather samples in space.
In the latest study, which is potentially the first to experimentally demonstrate a purely photonic tractoring technique, Dr. Cizmar's team paired with
Prof. Pavel Zemánek
Institute of Scientific Instruments
(ISI) in the Czech Republic. The authors use a two-laser setup to manipulate a series of spherical nanoparticles of various sizes. A variety of kinds of motion range from attraction to 2D motion to 1D sorting are achieved, using different beam techniques.
Dr. Cizmar says that the ability to pull objects against the photon stream may seem particularly odd to the layman,
, "It's surprising. Only when we looked in detail at the process did we see the reversal. It's quite a narrow field it occurs at."
The new technique bears advantages over other kinds of "tractoring" in the sense that it could work both in liquids and in vacuum. It also is highly selective, perhaps more so than the other forms of tractoring. Dr. Cizmar warns that tractoring large objects would be undesirable, even if the approach could somehow be scaled up. The beams transfer a small amount of energy to the object, which is in turn converted into heat. On a microscopic scale, the amount transferred is very small, but for a person -- let alone a starship -- the heating would likely be very destructive.
It's possible such an approach could be weaponized, though, offering up another popular science fiction staple -- the "phaser".
But in the near term, researchers remain focused on smaller, more practical applications. Their recent work was
in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal
. They hope to follow the work with more sophisticated sorting demonstrations, possibly on cells.
(Right) popularized the tractor beam, it was first presented in EE Smith's 1920s "Skylark" space opera. [Image Source: Google Images]
For science fiction fans, note that while it was
who popularized the notion of the "tractor beam", the fictional device was first dreamt up by American science fiction serialist EE Smith. Mr. Smith called the device an "attractor beam" and used it in his 1928 story The Skylark of Space. Dubbed the "father of the space opera" by man, perhaps Mr. Smith knew something his peers at the time didn't -- he did have a Ph.D in Chemical Engineering, after all.
This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled
1/25/2013 5:46:14 PM
maybe they could use it to tractor JJ Abrams away from trek, and replace him with ron moore (or anyone else who actually
1/26/2013 10:45:12 AM
... tractor JJ Abrams away from trek ...
Don't know about a well needed replacement, but Disney brought Abrams into Star Wars.
1/27/2013 11:25:51 PM
to dance upon the rattling bones of both franchises.
Oh, to have a good director/writer for either of them.
But, Disney + Abrams seems a match made in Hollywood heaven, which for people with taste = hell.
1/27/2013 11:33:37 PM
Don't worry. He's going to work his magic on Star Wars for real this time.
(His "Star Trek" was a bad imitation of Star Wars.)
Maybe Mel Brooks will appear in a dance number?
"We are going to continue to work with them to make sure they understand the reality of the Internet. A lot of these people don't have Ph.Ds, and they don't have a degree in computer science." -- RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis
NASA Scientists Awarded $100,000 to Analyze Tractor Beam Techniques
November 2, 2011, 11:42 AM
Aussie Scientists Have New "Pull" as Tractor Beam Goes the Distance
September 9, 2010, 11:58 AM
Cornell Scientists Show Light Can Be Very Attractive
November 18, 2009, 7:15 AM
NASA Considering SpaceX "Red Dragon" for Returning Mars Samples to Earth
March 10, 2014, 2:43 PM
Court Rules that FAA Cannot Ban Commercial Drones, Dismisses $10,000 Fine for Drone User
March 7, 2014, 1:14 PM
Lt. Gen. Davis Says Next Gen USAF Bomber Will "Of Course" Surpass $550M/Unit
March 6, 2014, 9:45 AM
USAF Moves Forward With Long Range Bomber Program Despite Budget Crunch
March 4, 2014, 9:44 AM
Drone Ships May Replace Manned Standard Cargo Ships in the Future
February 27, 2014, 7:48 AM
Military Officer in Charge of Lockheed F-35 Program: We Won't Pay for "Mistake after Mistake"
February 19, 2014, 11:07 AM
Most Popular Articles
Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 Made Wild Altitude Changes
March 14, 2014, 9:21 PM
Tesla Motors Calls New Jersey Out on New Rule Against Its Direct Sales Model
March 11, 2014, 12:01 PM
Hack Reveals Fallen Bitcoin CEO's Posh Tokyo Penthouse
March 10, 2014, 4:28 PM
Apple Authorized to Seek $40 Per Device Against Samsung
March 13, 2014, 4:31 PM
Man Who Shot Father for Texting During Movie Previews Was Also Texting
March 14, 2014, 2:25 PM
Latest Blog Posts
Retail Mobile Sites Experience Outages in Light of Simplexity's Bankruptcy
Mar 14, 2014, 8:48 AM
Tesla vs. BMW: Who Has the Safer EV?
Feb 1, 2014, 2:56 PM
Justice Leaks Details of Next HTC One Two Flagship Phone
Dec 5, 2013, 4:04 PM
Global Cyber Espionage Concerns Reveal Growing Cyber Armies
Nov 29, 2013, 11:04 AM
Is The Period Becoming an Expression of Anger?
Nov 26, 2013, 2:02 PM
More Blog Posts
Copyright 2014 DailyTech LLC. -
Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information