Thursday, July 8, 2010

Star Trek tractor beam created

A new tool uses a beam of light as a tiny 'tractor beam' to manipulate microscopic objects.

Tel Aviv University's Holographic Optical Tweezers (HOTs) can manipulate up to 300 nanoparticles at a time. The technology could have applications in communications and quantum computing.

HOTS - first proposed as a theoretical possibility in 1986 - use a strongly-focused light beam to trap, manipulate and transform small amounts of matter.

The team's now using them to create a new generation of photonic devices which can insulate light and trap it in one place without losing the light's energy.

"Our invention could increase transmission speed and save energy, important for long-life batteries in computers, for instance," says Dr Yael Roichman of TAU's Department of Chemistry.

She's using a new layering technique, whereby photonic crystals are arranged to create a path along which light can travel. If they're arranged correctly, she says, the light is trapped along the path.

Different materials are added to absorb or amplify light as required.

Roichman reckons that the ability to build these devices will transform communications, telescopic instruments, and medical technology, making them more efficient and powerful.

Another project tracks the effectiveness of antibiotics. Roichman's optical tweezers can isolate the bacteria to be studied, handling them without killing them.

And her improvements to optical microscopy will, she says, for the first time allow researchers to look at the internal processes within bacteria and see how different types of antibiotics attack them.

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