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Star Trek tractor beam: Trek-like tractor beam uses sound waves to move objects

Star Trek crew members would activate a tractor beam from the bridge to tow interstellar objects.
Star Trek crew members would activate a tractor beam from the bridge to tow interstellar objects.
Wikimedia Commons

A Star Trek tractor beam may be closer to reality than we think, claim researchers at the University of Dundee in Scotland. The Enterprise’s tractor beam would often be used to “tow” spacecrafts that were dead in the water, as it were. But a variation of the invisible beam, powered by sound waves, was found able to move a hollow object a few centimeters, reports Scottish scientists, who say that their research may have far reaching impact in the medical field.

According to NewsOxy on June 1, the UK research team was able to “use a ultrasound device that is already clinically approved for use in MRI-guided focused ultrasound surgery to move and even rotate the object. They claim that their tractor beam is the strongest one ever created and they plan to continue to develop it to make it even stronger.”

Lead researcher Dr. Christine Demore, from Dundee’s Institute for Medical Science and Technology, said: “We were able to show that you could exert sufficient force on an object around 1cm in size to hold or move it, by directing twin beams of energy from the ultrasound array towards the back of the object.” Demore added that their findings could be used in non-invasive surgeries, targeted drug delivery and other medical procedures.

The acoustic beam is shaped to match the targeted object. The research team believes their results will lead to advancement in ultrasound-based techniques. The scientists have published their results in the journal Physical Review Letters.

“The concept has been there for a long time,” Dr. Demore said. “It took a couple of years to find the right pieces and get them together, with lots of other research going on.” Demore said that while other “tractor beams” have been developed, her team was the first to move an object with significant mass.

“This is the first time anyone has demonstrated a working acoustic tractor beam and the first time such a beam has been used to move anything bigger than microscopic targets,” Demore said. “We were able to show that you could exert sufficient force on an object around one centimeter in size to hold or move it, by directing twin beams of energy from the ultrasound array towards the back of the object.”