Major breakthrough in tractor beam technology

It's now possible to move a tiny bead of glass (pictured) five feet using just laser beams. We may not be tractor-beaming humans into spaceships yet, but this is a huge step forward for a technology once called science fictional.

For years, scientists have been using "light tweezers," or lasers, to move bacteria short distances. But this new device is far more powerful, moving an object hundreds of times bigger than a bacteria several feet. Now Australian National University researchers have a new device that's much more powerful.

Inside Science reports:

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.

Unfortunately, the technique doesn't work in vacuum so we won't see this deployed in space any time soon. But the researchers say they could definitely move the beads farther than 5 feet, though a great deal more research needs to be done before we'll have a concrete application for the tractor beam.

via Inside Science