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Star Trek Actually Got Tractor Beams Right

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We've made another step forward in building real-life tractor beams. Turns out that the trick is in the angle of the beam, and Star Trek did a pretty good job of representing what a real tractor beam could look like.

When a regular beam of light or sound hits an object head-on, the beam pushes the object away. But, if the beams are reoriented to instead hit the sides of the object, the force is in the opposite direction, propelling the object towards the beam and pulling it in. So, the classic Star Trek image of multiple beams shooting out from different angles, encompassing the object before pulling it in? That actually works out pretty well!


This isn't the first time we've discussed tractor beams, but as a scalable phenomena, it's a neat update. This isn't the only research group making progress; a different ultrasound technology lab was able to separate and suspend individual particles in January of this year:

Science News has a paywalled article discussing the concept further. Top image by Star Trek.