Tractor Beams May No longer Be Science Fiction

(University of Adelaide)

If you’ve ever watched episodes of the original Star Trek, you probably have seen at least one episode whereby the crew or the alien crew used a tractor beam to hold and transport an external spacecraft to some other location in the galaxy. Fiction then, reality now, University of Adelaide researchers have created an infrared tractor beam – or light-driven energy trap – for atoms. But rather than sucking spaceships into a space station, their tractor beam pulls atoms into a microscopic hole at the center of a special optical fibre.


Researchers from the University’s Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS) say it’s the first-time scientists have demonstrated an efficient waveguide trap. The tractor beam works via the infrared light interacting with the atoms to create a change in energy that drives the atoms to the most intense part of the light beam. PhD student Ashby Hilton developed the technology and said that although tractor beams in movies like Star Trek and Star Wars are green or blue, in this case the trap is made of invisible infrared light. Learn more.