Physicists Build Repulsor / Tractor Beam

Physicists Dr Vladlen Shvedov and Dr Cyril Hnatovsky have built a hollow laser beam that can be used both as a tractor beam and as a repulsor beam.


(Dr Vladlen Shvedov (L) and Dr Cyril Hnatovsky adjusting the hollow laser beam)

It is the first long-distance optical tractor beam and moved particles one fifth of a millimetre in diameter a distance of up to 20 centimetres, around 100 times further than previous experiments.

“Demonstration of a large scale laser beam like this is a kind of holy grail for laser physicists,” said Professor Wieslaw Krolikowski, from the Research School of Physics and Engineering.

The new technique is versatile because it requires only a single laser beam. It could be used, for example, in controlling atmospheric pollution or for the retrieval of tiny, delicate or dangerous particles for sampling.

The researchers can also imagine the effect being scaled up.

“Because lasers retain their beam quality for such long distances, this could work over metres. Our lab just was not big enough to show it,” said co-author Dr Vladlen Shvedov, a driving force behind the ANU project, along with Dr Cyril Hnatovsky.

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.

Also, the term repulsor was used by Frederick Brown in his 1949 story What Mad Universe.

Via Australian National University press release.

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