Tractor beams have been common in science fiction for decades. Fans of science fiction such as Star Trek or Star Wars will be familiar with the tractor beam. The tractor beam and popular science fiction is a beam of light able to reach out and grab a spaceship or other object and pull it towards the captors.
A group of scientists have created a real tractor beam that uses light to attract objects. Rather than using the tractor beam to capture rogue spaceships or large objects, the scientists hope that the tractor beam could have medical applications giving the ability to attract individual cells. The research team is from the University of St. Andrews and the beam they created is limited to attracting microscopic particles.
The lead researcher on the product is Doctor Thomas Cizmar, a research fellow in the school of medicine at the University of St. Andrews. The researcher admits that technique is very new, but it has huge potential. According to Cizmar, the tractor beam his team has invented is very selective in the properties of particles that it acts upon. This means that people using the tractor beam would be able to attract specific particles in a mixture.
The researchers on the project say that typically when microscopic objects are hit by a beam of light, they are pushed along in the direction of the beam by the photons of light. Cizmar says that the team was surprised to see this force reversed in their invention. According to the researchers, the fact that their tractor beam acts only on microscopic objects is okay. The scientists say that if the tractor beam was scaled up to work on things as large as spaceships that the beam would result in a massive amount of heating to the object targeted.