"Star Trek"-like tractor beams may soon be a reality now that researchers have harnessed the ability to move objects using the power of sound waves.
"We were able to show that you could exert sufficient force on an object around 1 centimeter (about 0.4 inches) in size to hold or move it, by directing twin beams of energy from the ultrasound array towards the back of the object," said Dundee University physicist Dr. Christine Demore of the university's Institute For Medical Science and Technology (IMSAT), according to The Daily Mail
"This is the first time anyone has demonstrated a working acoustic tractor beam and the first time such a beam has been used to move anything bigger than microscopic targets," she continued.
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Thus far, the ultrasonic beam can pull small, hollow objects toward its energy source with a billion times more force than previous beams. It has also set a new record for size of object successfully pulled. Previous objects used were in the microscopic realm, with masses literally a million times smaller.
"The concept has been there for a long time. It took a couple of years to find the right pieces and get them together, with lots of other research going on," said Demore of the breakthrough, which was published in the journal APS Physics in late April.
Scientists say the tractor beam could be used in ultrasound-based clinical procedures, such as moving drug capsules to an exact release spot inside the body. Best of all, the tractor beam was created with an ultrasound device that is already clinically approved for use in MRI-guided surgery, the BBC reported
The research was developed under a $6 million program that combines resources from universities in Bristol, Dundee, Glasgow, and Southampton with industrial firms.
"Our partnership with industry has been vital to developing devices and capabilities that are delivering unprecedented sophistication in the field of ultrasound," said Professor Sandy Cochran of the University of Dundee.
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