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Tractor beams are suddenly a lot more plausible

Steve Dent, @stevetdent
October 20, 2014
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Tractor beams now have a better shot at crossing from science fiction trope to reality, thanks to scientists at The Australian National University (ANU). They managed to push and pull a 0.2mm sized particle nearly 20cm using a "hollow" laser beam. That's a hundred-fold improvement over recent efforts at light propulsion, which have only moved microscopic particles short distances. The ANU team placed gold-coated glass spheres in the light-free center of the beams, creating hotspots on the surface that propelled the spheres via air reactions. The hotspot's location was changed by adjusting the polarization, giving scientists full control over the sphere's motion. Sure, it's not exactly the Death Star, but the scientists think it'll work over long distances -- meaning it could one day be used to, say, control pollution or move dangerous particles in the lab.

[Image credits: Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images, ANU]

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