Fans of space sagas Star Wars and Star Trek will be very familiar with "tractor beams," the projected force-fields utilised by spaceports, planetary bases, space stations, and star-ships to lock onto crafts and guide them to a safe designated landing site.
New research conducted at Dundee University in Scotland has now used ultrasound energy to create a "tractor beam" with properties similar to its science-fictional equivalent.
During the study, which was published in the journal APS Physics, scientists managed to remotely pull a hollow triangular object towards the energy source, push it away and also rotate it.
Dr Christine Demore, of the university’s Institute For Medical Science and Technology (IMSAT), said: ‘We were able to show that you could exert sufficient force on an object around 1cm (about 0.4in) in size to hold or move it, by directing twin beams of energy from the ultrasound array towards the back of the object."
The research was based on an ultrasound device that is already in existence clinically approved for use in MRI-guided focused ultrasound surgery, and also built on other research that looked at the creation of a "sonic screwdriver" similar to that used in the science fiction series Doctor Who.
‘The concept has been there for a long time" commented Dr Demore. "It took a couple of years to find the right pieces and get them together, with lots of other research going on. Our previous work on the sonic screwdriver led to this."
The latest experiments were conducted using a suspended triangular prism, a little denser than water, and about 5cm (2in) tall. The latest sound beam technology is capable of pulling with a billion times more force and can tow objects a million times larger than previous designs for tractor beams.
Tractor beams - first conceived in 1928 by EE Smith in his story "The Skylark of Space - have been researched in earnest since the 1960s, and previous research has found some success using optical vortexes to move individual particles using beams of light. More recently, in 2011, researchers from China and Hong Kong proposed theoretic methods using laser beams of a specific shape. The results were so promising that the U.S. space agency NASA also funded a study to explore its potential in the manipulation of samples in space.
Later studies conducted at the University of St. Andrews in 2013 managed to created rays using liquids and a vacuum that were capable of moving microscopic objects. It was hoped that the research, which was published in the journal Nature Phototonics, could be used in medical applications by targeting and attracting individual cells.
The study's lead researcher, Dr Tomas Cizmar, who is a research fellow in the School of Medicine at the University of St Andrews, said that the technique had huge potential:
"The practical applications could be very great, very exciting. The tractor beam is very selective in the properties of the particles it acts on, so you could pick up specific particles in a mixture," he explained. "Eventually this could be used to separate white blood cells, for example."
The team at the University of St Andrews worked in association with colleagues at the Institute of Scientific Instruments (ISI) in the Czech Republic.
Prof Zemanek, from the ISI, said: "The whole team have spent a number of years investigating various configurations of particles delivery by light. I am proud our results were recognised in this very competitive environment and I am looking forward to new experiments and applications. It is a very exciting time."
The latest research from Dundee proves that both light and sound can be utilised to remotely move or influence objects. More research needs to be conducted to explore the abilities of humans to directly access light and sound waves, a process that could explain the principles behind the phenomenon of telekinesis.
Research into suggest telekinesis generates acoustic signals with a duration of 0.1-0.01 seconds. It has been suggested that sounds known as Isochronic Tones can promote telekinetic abilities, though there is no credible scientific evidence to substantiate this.
The latest research does provide proof that light and sound waves are not the intangible, ineffectual forces we perceive them to be, merely because they are invisible to our naked eye, but instead are powerful energetic forces whose amazing potential is not yet fully understood.
The research on acoustic energy also adds weight to the theory that sound levitation was used to move the immense megaliths of Stonehenge and the Pyramids. Subscribe today to explore the wealth of amazing interviews on Unknown Country that investigate the intriguing concept of sound levitation, and many more fascinating subjects!