Scientists have developed a working Star Trek style tractor bream on a microscopic scale.
The tiny apparatus is capable of attracting particles towards it using a beam of light, the first time such a feat has been achieved without the use of a computer to "trap" the objects beforehand. While the principle works well on very small targets, scaling it up to work on larger everyday objects isn't really practical. "If you imagine you would like to attract a football, the amount of energy it would transfer would be huge and it would immediately burn up the football," said study leader Dr Tomas Cizmar.
The aim of building a working tractor beam has been the target of scientific research for decades with varying degrees of success. While a device of the scale and power of the tractor beams used in science fiction shows like Star Trek are still a long way off, the miniature tractor beams developed so far could prove very useful in areas such as medicine and robotics.
"Researchers from St Andrews demonstrated that the microscopic-scale apparatus could pull tiny particles suspended in water towards it via a beam of light, rather than push them away as would normally happen."
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