Scientists just built a working tractor beam that relies on sound waves

scientists just built working tractor beam screen shot 2014 05 08 at 1 52 50 pm

Thanks to the relentless progression of technology, more and more things that were once science fiction are now becoming science fact. Case in point: a few months ago, a multinational team of researchers collaborating from the UK, Scotland, and the US, successfully built a functioning acoustic tractor beam in a lab — news that we’re sure evil geniuses everywhere are thrilled to hear. 

However, all of you aspiring intergalactic supervillains out there should probably keep your excitement contained for now. At this point, the beam is only able to pull objects that are just centimeters in size, so it’ll need to be scaled up substantially if you’re ever going to trap and pull in a fleeing enemy spacecraft. But hey, you’ve got to walk before you can run, right?

In a paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters, the team describes how they built the device, how it works, and what it could potentially be used for. Unfortunately, galactic domination isn’t in the cards, since the beam relies on sound waves to work, and sound doesn’t travel in the vacuum of space.

acoustic tractor beamBut all is not lost – the beam still has some pretty nifty potential applications here on Earth. We’ll get to those in a minute, but first, here’s a quick overview of how it works:

The researchers created the tractor beam by firing ultrasonic sound waves at an object and strategically scattering the waves so they hit the target object at a certain angle. By controlling the scattering angle just right, they were able to create a low pressure zone in front of the object, which caused it to move toward the origin of the beam.

However, it’s worth noting that the experiment was conducted in a tank of water, and since sound travels through water much more easily than it does through air, it’s difficult to determine how effective this technique would be in a less ideal environment. Regardless though, it’s still pretty cool.

Acoustic tractor beam tech is definitely still in its infancy at this point, but with further refinement it could potentially be used by doctors to extract foreign objects from people’s bodies.

Find out more here.

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