May 26, 2012
A group of researchers at the A*STAR Data Storage Institute has possibly figured out a way to take the fictional tractor beam and make it real.
Light’s ability to push objects has been known for some time, but what has evaded researchers so far is a way to create backwards force from a forward-moving beam.
The A*Star team has figured out how to do just that. The key to the discovery is the Bessel beam, a laser with particular distribution of light intensity. Instead of scattering backwards, the light of a Bessel beam can, with small enough particles, actually scatter forward, pulling the particles back towards the observer. So, while the beam of light is moving forward, the particles are moving backwards. Hello, tractor beam.
That’s the theory, anyway. The team says the idea could be used to manipulate smaller objects like biological cells, which don’t need all that much energy to be moved.
Higher level applications like cars or people, on the other hand, are seen as more or less impossible: One, moving something on that scale would would require far too much energy, and two, the ensuing Besssel beam would likely be powerful enough to damage — or, in the case humans, kill — whatever it was moving.
In short, a Bessel beam vacation would not be a fun trip.