Scientists have developed a real-life “tractor beam”, which uses light to attract objects, and could have medical applications by targeting and attracting individual cells.
The tractor beam is limited to moving microscopic particles and not massive objects, said researchers from the University of St Andrews and the Institute of Scientific Instruments (ISI) in the Czech Republic.
The study’s lead researcher Dr Tomas Cizmar said while the technique is very new, it had huge potential, the BBC News reported.
“The practical applications could be very great, very exciting. The tractor beam is very selective in the properties of the particles it acts on, so you could pick up specific particles in a mixture,” he said.
“Eventually this could be used to separate white blood cells, for example,” Cizmar said.
Usually when microscopic objects are hit by a beam of light, they are forced along the direction of the beam by the light photons.
Cizmar’s team’s technique allows for that force to be reversed which he said some people might find counter-intuitive.
“The whole team have spent a number of years investigating various configurations of particles delivery by light. I am proud our results were recognised in this very competitive environment and I am looking forward to new experiments and applications. It is a very exciting time,” said Professor Zemanek, from the Institute of Scientific Instruments (ISI) in the Czech Republic.
Practical scientific theories on real-life tractor beams have been developed since 1960, but it is thought this is the first time a beam has been used to draw microscopic objects towards the light source.
The study was published in journal Nature Photonics.