Tractor beam a reality

While it might be a long time before we’re all able to utter the famous words “Beam me up Scotty,” and actually mean it, scientists at St. Andrews University have developed a Star Trek-style tractor beam, which can reach out, trap and move objects.

For now the beam can only move microscopic particles, 100 times thinner than a strand of human hair, so scientists are a fair way off the ship-moving powers of science fiction tractor beams.

“We’ve only just begun to realize the possibilities for what we might do with this technology,” said Dr. Dholakia, who headed the project.

Researchers have used so-called optical twist technology, in which particles trapped in a tightly focused laser beam can be moved from one spot to the other, to insert genes into cells. The ability to rotate objects as well would make their job far easier, something Dr. Dholakia’s team has achieved with a spiral of lasers.

“Our technique is potentially more applicable than others. We’ve rotated several different structures to show the range of things we can do,” said Dr. Dholakia. “The beauty of our technique is that we can dictate how far we want the spiral pattern to go round and at what speed.”