Jun 232012
 

A layered design would split two key aspects of a light wave, enabling electromagnetic energy to pull objects

Tractor beams, a staple of science fiction, may be moving closer to science fact. In a paper published earlier this spring, physicists have proposed a structure that may enable light to pull objects.

Normally, light pushes on objects, albeit weakly. In the field of optical manipulation optical tweezers employ this pushing force to move microscopic objects from atoms to bacteria. The ability to pull as well would increase the precision and scope of optical manipulation. For spaceflight, engineers have proposed sails to capture the force exerted by light.

Rather than towing space vessels, the newly proposed tractor beam might be more useful in biology or medicine. “If you want to pull something towards you, you just reduce the pressure,” says Mordechai Segev, a physicist at Technion–Israel Institute of Technology, who describes his team’s idea in an April Optics Express paper. “You make a little bit of vacuum,” he adds. The problem is that in sensitive medical applications, such as lung surgery, it is important not to change the pressure or introduce any new gases. “Here, the light will be the suction device,” he says, “so the pressure would not change at all. It is just the light.”

Previous ideas for a “tractor beam” have often focused on creating new gravitational fields to drag objects, heating air to create pressure differences or inducing electric and magnetic charges in objects so that they move against the direction of an incoming laser beam.

The latest proposal takes advantage of a phenomenon called negative radiation pressure.

Tractor beams, a staple of science fiction, may be moving closer to science fact. In a paper published earlier this spring, physicists have proposed a structure that may enable light to pull objects.

Normally, light pushes on objects, albeit weakly. In the field of optical manipulation optical tweezers employ this pushing force to move microscopic objects from atoms to bacteria. The ability to pull as well would increase the precision and scope of optical manipulation. For spaceflight, engineers have proposed sails to capture the force exerted by light.

Rather than towing space vessels, the newly proposed tractor beam might be more useful in biology or medicine. “If you want to pull something towards you, you just reduce the pressure,” says Mordechai Segev, a physicist at Technion–Israel Institute of Technology, who describes his team’s idea in an April Optics Express paper. “You make a little bit of vacuum,” he adds. The problem is that in sensitive medical applications, such as lung surgery, it is important not to change the pressure or introduce any new gases. “Here, the light will be the suction device,” he says, “so the pressure would not change at all. It is just the light.”

Previous ideas for a “tractor beam” have often focused on creating new gravitational fields to drag objects, heating air to create pressure differences or inducing electric and magnetic charges in objects so that they move against the direction of an incoming laser beam.

The latest proposal takes advantage of a phenomenon called negative radiation pressure.

Read more . . .

via Scientific American – Evelyn Lamb
 

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