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A New Tractor Beam at the Speed of Sound

A New Tractor Beam at the Speed of Sound

Tractor beam

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned in this space before, I’m quite fond of pointing out all the ways we are now living in the future Star Trek predicted. From our handheld communicators (cellphones), to PADDs (tablets), to heck, warp drive, we’re reaping the real-world results Gene Roddenberry’s imagination sowed.

And now, we may actually be developing a practical tractor beam! A team out of Spain’s Public University of Navarre and the University of Bristol has published the results of their experiment, in which they arranged tiny transducers to emit inaudible sound waves in several different patterns, called “traps.” The most effective traps created sound waves that actually lifted Styrofoam beads off the experimental surface.

The experiment is a game-changer in that

“‘[a]ll previous levitators had to surround the particle with acoustic elements, which was cumbersome for some kind of manipulations,’ says study leader Asier Marzo. […]‘Our technique, however, only requires sound waves from one side. It’s like a laser—you can levitate particles, but with a single beam.’[…]

‘Basically we copied the principle of light holograms to create these acoustic holograms,’ says Marzo.”

With this easier-to-manipulate (and, let’s face it, a smaller and therefore less expensive) set up, we could soon see the tractor beam applied to laboratory contexts, or even medicine and space travel. But for the latter, we definitely need to get on that warp drive first.