Saturday, January 26, 2013

Functional tractor beam created

A tractor beam is something that most of us will know from science fiction, such as Star Trek or Star Wars. It is classified as a beam that can attract an object from a distance, without a seeming physical connection. It functions pretty much like gravity, but instead it can be aimed at a specific object and drag it towards itself. It seems ludicrous to pursue the development of such a device, but scientists from the University of St Andrews actually managed to make one. That does not immediately mean we can drag star ships from outer space, however: their device works on a microscopic level.

According to the researchers who developed the device, their tractor beam is capable of attracting particles at the atom level. It does so by harnessing the power of light. To be specific: when an object on an atomic level is hit by a beam of light, it results in motion. Normally the object moves along the path of the light beam, but the British scientists managed to reverse the impact that light has on such a microscopic object, which means it results in movement towards the light source.

The world's first tractor beam is mainly developed for use in medicine, and not for space endeavours. For example, it can be used to separate a specific group of molecules or cells from a mixture. One of the practical applications could be filtering white blood cells out of the blood. According to the researchers, their tractor beam is very specific in the particles it picks up, which means we may use it in the future to isolate compounds of interest.

A tractor beam is something that most of us would never have imagined to become reality. While it does open up a whole new range of applications, the scientists do not think that their device will function on a larger scale. Due to the fact that a light beam is necessary to attract matter using their technique, is is unlikely that we can create a light source big enough to attract a space ship, for example. And if we could, the energy intensity would render it pretty much similar to flying straight into the sun. Nevertheless, we know that science fiction can turn into reality, which means that we should not exclude anything yet.
A tractor beam from Star Wars.

No comments:

Post a Comment