Tractor Beam Works Over Longer Distances

This new tractor beam prototype is able to move small objects 100x the size of a bacterium more than a meter using only the power of light. It was built by researchers from the Australian National University.


(Tractor beam suspends a small particle over an optics table. )

The device works by shining a hollow laser beam around tiny glass particles. The air surrounding the particle heats up, while the dark center of the beam stays cool. When the particle starts to drift out of the middle and into the bright laser beam, the force of heated air molecules bouncing around and hitting the particle's surface is enough to nudge it back to the center.

A small amount of light also seeps into the darker middle part of the beam, heating the air on one side of the particle and pushing it along the length of the laser beam. If another such laser is lined up on the opposite side of the beam, the speed and direction the particle moves can be easily manipulated by changing the brightness of the beams.

Science fiction fans recall that the term tractor beam originated in Space Hounds of IPC, the 1931 novel by E.E. 'Doc' Smith.

...Brandon swung mighty tractor beams upon the severed halves of the Jovian vessel, then extended a couple of smaller rays to meet the two little figures racing across the smooth green meadow...
(Read more about Smith's tractor beam)

Although he lost the "war of words" with Smith, science fiction writer Edmond Hamilton had the basic idea first - he called it an "attractive ray" in his 1928 book Crashing Suns.

From via Physorg; thanks to Winchell Chung for the tip in this story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 9/8/2010)

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