A tractor beam described as the Holy Grail for laser physicists is able to move particles around 100 times further than ever before.
The groundbreaking invention, made from a hollow laser beam, was able to move particles with a diameter of 0.2mm up to 20cm in lab trials.
Professor Wieslaw Krolikowski, from The Australian National University, said: “Demonstration of a large-scale laser beam like this is a kind of holy grail for laser physicists.”
The researchers believe the technique could be scaled up to move particles over larger distances, and potential uses for such a device could include controlling air pollution.
Dr Vladlen Shvedov, who helped lead the study, said: “Because lasers retain their beam quality for such long distances, this could work over metres. Our lab just was not big enough to show it.”
The energy of the tractor beam’s laser heats up the particles and the air around them, causing them to move.
The team used gold-coated hollow glass particles to demonstrate the device.
The system can also be reversed, meaning it can push as well as pull particles.
The work is published in the journal Nature Photonics.
Tractor beams have long been featured in sci-fi films and TV shows.
Star Wars website Wookieepedia points out how the first Death Star was equipped with 768 tractor beam generators, enabling it to constrain ships like Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon with ease.