Science News: Scientists Bring Sci-Fi Technology to Life by Creating Working Tractor Beam

Tractor beam from Star Trek
(Photo : Flickr / Kanijoman / CC)

The concept of tractor beams, as seen in the "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" films, has always belonged to the realm of science fiction.

But recently, a team of scientists were able to create a real-life tractor beam that can levitate, pull and rotate objects in mid-air.

For their very own tractor beam, the scientists used high-amplitude sound waves to create acoustic holograms. Just like how visual holograms are produce by interfering light waves, the scientists were able to create acoustic holograms through sound waves.

These waves reach frequencies of up to 40kHz, which means it will not produce an annoying sound for humans since people are only capable of hearing noises below 20kHz.

"As a mechanical wave, sound can exert significant forces on objects," lead author Asier Marzo of Spain's Public University of Navarre and Britain's University of Bristol explained in a statement according to Today Online.

"Just remember the last time you were in a concert and your chest was vibrating with the music," he added.

To test out the tractor beam, Marzo's team used small polystyrene beads that measure 3 millimeters across.

They then placed the bead on what appears to be a bed of flat speakers and through the sound waves they produced, the scientists were able to make the bead float.

Also, by adjusting the level of the sound waves, they were able to manipulate the acoustic holograms like a 3D cage to control the movement of the bead. Through this method, the scientists were able to spin the object, move it around or keep in its levitating position.

According to Marzo, they can use the acoustic-based tractor beam to lift heavier objects but for now, the team's focus is testing it on even smaller items. This is because they intend to release their invention as a helpful tool for doctors due to its potential medical applications.

"It could be used to manipulate kidney stones, clots, or microsurgical instruments that you can control from the outside, without having to make any incisions in the patient," Marzo explained according to The Guardian. "Or you could hold a drug wherever you wanted to inside the patient, so it doesn't go anywhere else in the body."

Marzo's team also believes the tractor beam can be used to transport materials that are too dangerous for humans to handle.

Details about the scientists' acoustic-based tractor beam were presented in a report published on October 27 in the journal Nature Communications.

Tags Tractor Beam, Star Trek, Star Wars, Science, Invention, Study

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