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Star Trek style tractor beams now in the lab but at small scale

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Star Date 20121022:120058 (unless you go by one of the online javascript SD convertors) and we have located a "working" tractor beam. It's been experimentally demonstrated by the team of David B. Ruffner and David G. Grier at the Dept. of Physics and Center for Soft Matter Research (NY). The results were announced online 10/22/2012. The official paper title is "Optical Conveyors: A Class of Active Tractor Beams". However, the term "optical conveyor" does not appear in the popular parlance of our day. The actual results - expressed in precise mathematics - are more significant.

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Though the machinery or device is actually quite small - it mainly consists of a microscope and two Bessel beams (see section 3 of this PDF). The scientific team did publish images of the effect and its results but quite frankly a video would be much more helpful if it were possible. Bessel beams are apparently a form of laser beam - and laser microscopy is not an unknown technique. The team was able to "trap" small particles of silica (30 micrometers in size) and demonstrate the ability to move individual particles with their set up.

For some reason the team had to remove all diffraction from the focused beams, this was done by turning the two beams into a hologram. Even at the small scale used by the team there's still room to make more beams - suggesting that multiple particles could be moved by the tractor beam en masse. Indeed, a lasing microscope was used to measure and track the deliberate movements of the particles. However, the current tractor beam "works" only at low speeds and high energies. This would suggest that for a larger scale tractor beam of this type a lower energy design would be needed.

The work was supported by the National Science Foundation - we are hoping that the team will repeat the results for future verification. We also hope that another team/s will reproduce the results for good science. But why do Bessel beam holograms need to be used anyway? Because other forms of direct light cause radiation pressure and move any objects in an opposite direction. Though the Star Trek style tractor beam created in the lab is not ready beyond the small scale we hope the next generation of experiments will take us closer.

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