Laser physicists have built a tractor beam that can repel and attract objects, using a hollow laser beam that is bright around the edges and dark in its centre.
It is the first long-distance optical tractor beam and moved particles one fifth of a millimetre in diameter a distance of up to 20 centimetres, around 100 times further than previous experiments.
“Demonstration of a large scale laser beam like this is a kind of holy grail for laser physicists,” said Professor Wieslaw Krolikowski, from the Research School of Physics and Engineering.
The new technique is versatile because it requires only a single laser beam. It could be used, for example, in controlling atmospheric pollution or for the retrieval of tiny, delicate or dangerous particles for sampling.
The researchers can also imagine the effect being scaled up.