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Trapping atoms, not space ships, with tractor beams

Dr Philip Light with the atomic chamber in which the atomic tractor beams were created

University of Adelaide researchers have delved into the realm of Star Wars and created a powerful tractor beam - or light-driven energy trap - for atoms.

Rather than sucking space-ships into a space-station, this tractor beam pulls atoms into a microscopic hole at the centre of a special optical fibre. It is opening the way for new quantum experiments that may lead to new secure communications or advanced sensing technologies.

Published in the journal Physical Review Applied, the researchers from the University’s Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS) say this is the first time that scientists have been able to demonstrate a highly efficient ‘waveguide trap’.

The PhD student who developed the technology, Ashby Hilton, says: “Although tractor beams are green or blue in the movies, in this case the trap is made of invisible infra-red light. The beam grabs hold of atoms that are floating in a chamber that is almost completely emptied of gas – a little sample of outer space on Earth.

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Tagged in Research, School of Physical Sciences, Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing - IPAS, Physics

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