Scottish scientists create tractor beam, but not as we know it

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St Andrews University: Scientists hope the device can be used in medical testing.

Scottish scientists have helped create a real-life version of the 'tractor beam' used in TV sci-fi series Star Trek.

Researchers at the University of St Andrews made the breakthrough in collaboration with a team at the Institute of Scientific Instruments (ISI) in the Czech Republic.

It is hoped the device, a miniaturised version of the beams used in the cult TV show to tow spaceships, can be used in medical testing.

Scientists have been working since the 1990s to develop the miniature tractor beam, which draws microscopic objects towards a light source.

Usually light has the effect of pushing away solid matter, a phenomenon first observed by German astronomer Johannes Kepler in the 17th century when he noticed that the tails of comets pointed away from the sun.

But the researchers in Fife and the Czech Republic said they had developed a technique which allows them to exert a negative force on minuscule particles, reversing the effect and creating a tractor-beam effect.

It is hoped it could lead to more efficient medical testing, such as in the examination of blood samples.

The research said they had successfully carried out experiments to demonstrate the effect together with a number of applications for bio-medical photonics and other discipline.

Dr Tomas Cizmar, research fellow in the school of medicine at the University of St Andrews, said: "Because of the similarities between optical and acoustic particle manipulation, we anticipate that this concept will provide inspiration for exciting future studies in areas outside the field of photonics."