Remember in Star Trek, when they use tractor beams on the U.S.S. Enterprise to space jump onto a drilling platform that is used to extract “red matter” into the core of Vulcan? Or, if you watched the actual show like a real Trekkie, they use it in every episode ever? Well, our very own school’s physicists have proposed how a working tractor beam might work. For those of you who are not science fiction fans, a tractor beam is a device that uses energy to pull an object toward it.
NYU Professors David Ruffner and David Grier posted the theory in a paper entitled, “Optical Conveyors: A Class of Active Tractor Beams” online. They used previous strategies on work with Bessel beams to prove this idea; The Huffington Post informed us that Bessel beams are types of lasers that direct light in concentric circles rather than a single focus point and they’re capable of reconstructing themselves on another side of an object.
The two overlapped two Bessel beams using a lens. The combined beam moved their tiny 1.5 micrometer silica sphere in water toward the laser’s source. Grier explained, “One way to describe this is that the combined beam is sort of like a wave (of intensity) on top of a wave (of light). The light wave travels downstream, just as light does. The intensity wave on top travels back toward the source and carries illuminated objects with it. A trapped particle is much like a surfer riding the intensity wave back up the light wave.”
However, moving larger objects would require so much energy that the object would be destroyed in the process. Yet Grier still said that there’s still hope suggesting that the device might be feasible. If invented and used, the tractor beam could help sample-gather space rovers. NASA funded a $100,000 study of tractor beams last year. Also, it will probably become a future smartphone feature. For a more hands-on explanation, go watch Mashable’s video.