Scientists Design Tractor Beam by Splitting Light Waves

Physicists at the Israel Institute of Technology are working on a new structure that could bring the popular science fiction device to real-world situations such as the operating room. 

What's the Latest Development?


Physicists at the Israel Institute of Technology are working on a new structure that could bring the popular science fiction device to real-world situations such as the operating room. To manipulate light such that it pulls objects toward its source, the physicists are seeking to take advantage of a phenomenon called negative radiation pressure. The phenomenon is achieved when "electromagnetic energy of a light wave goes in the direction of the group velocity whereas the wave's effect on a particle goes in the direction of the phase velocity."

What's the Big Idea?

Physicists have known for some time that light has the ability to push objects, albeit weakly. Some in the aerospace industry, for example, have proposed the construction of massive solar sails to propel spacecraft using light emitted by the sun. Negative radiation pressure, which would pull objects rather than push them, was introduced as a theoretical possibility in 1967. "But in the past couple of decades several teams of researchers proved that negative refraction can occur in specially made substances called metamaterials, which have led to limited invisibility cloaks and distortion-free 'super' lenses."

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

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