Experts build a mini-version of tractor beam from 'Star Trek'
Physicists in Australia construct a device that can move small glass particles.
Mon, Sep 13, 2010 at 02:44 PM
WARP SPEED: Original shuttle pod from the TV-Show "Star Trek: Enterprise" (Photo: ZUMA Press)
"Star Trek" first debuted in 1966 on American television, opening up the world’s imagination to concepts such as warp drive, transporters and tractor beam. A gigantic industry of followers was born, debating everything from the nuances of the Klingon language to the exact location of Captain Kirk’s birth. But as Msnbc.com reports, scientists may have discovered a practical application for a "Star Trek" inspiration. Physicists have developed a device that may make a form of the tractor beam a reality.
Experts at the Australian National University have created a device that can transport small glass particles one and a half meters across a desk without touching them. These particles are a hundred times the size of a bacterium. The process involves a thin laser, some atmosphere, and a few hot air particles.
The real-life device works through the use of a hollow laser. Glass particles are kept inside a very thin hollow laser light with a dark core. One inside the cool core, the particles are kept in place by laser-heated air. The hot air molecules keep the glass particles in place by pushing them to the center of the laser. Once there, the glass particles can be manipulated “tractor-beam style.”
Experts point out that this “beam” could not work in space, as it needs to exist in an atmosphere. This device may be used in biomedical procedures and research, replacing the optical teasers currently used to handle potentially dangerous microorganisms. It would allow microbiologists to remain “hand-free” when dealing with microorganisms they don’t want to touch.
Professor Andrei Rhode led the team at the Australian National University that developed the laser. As he told reporters, the practical uses for this device are abundant. According to Rhode, “These include, directing and clustering nanoparticles in air, the micro-manipulation of objects, sampling of atmospheric aerosols, and low contamination, non-touch handling of sampling materials. On top of this, the laser beam could be used for the transport of dangerous substances and microbes, in small amounts.” Rhode also points out that the device could be used in the assembly of micro machines and electronic components.
No word yet from Rhode and his team on creating a transporter.
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