Researchers from the University of Bristol and the University of Sussex in England have brought us one step closer to realizing the strange world of science fiction. According to a university press release, scientists have built the world’s first sonic tractor beam, allowing them to lift objects into the air using nothing but sound waves.
Tractor beams have long been the stuff of science fiction, a theoretical beam that could use waves to grab and lift objects. The tractor beam has made appearances in many novels and even the popular sci-fi series Star Trek, but was finally realized when scientists used high-amplitude sound waves that were capable of picking up tiny objects.
The technique was outlined in a study published in the journal Nature Communications, and could be used for a number of applications. The tractor beam could be used in manufacturing to move small or delicate objects into place without breaking them. It could also be used in a surgical application to make procedures less invasive.
According to Asier Marzo, a PhD student and the study’s lead author, “It was an incredible experience the first time we saw the object held in place by the tractor beam. All my hard work has paid off, it’s brilliant.”
Three different shapes of acoustic force fields can work as a tractor beam to move objects using sound waves, including one that resembles a pair of fingers or tweezers for grabbing. The second is a vortex that secures objects in the middle, and the third is like a high intensity cage that holds objects in place from all directions.