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Quantum tractor beam could tug atoms, molecules

Electron beams could enable ‘matter wave’ treknology, theoretical study suggests

7:00am, May 19, 2017
double-slit experiment

DO THE WAVE  Quantum matter acts like both a particle and a wave, as demonstrated by the famous double-slit experiment (illustrated above). Electrons sent through a pair of slits interfere like waves, creating peaks and troughs. This wave nature of matter could be used to create a tractor beam that could reel in atoms or molecules, a new study proposes.

The wavelike properties of quantum matter could lead to a scaled-down version of Star Trek technology. A new kind of tractor beam could use a beam of particles to reel in atoms or molecules, physicists propose in the May 5 Physical Review Letters.

Scientists have previously created tractor beams using light or sound waves, which can pull small particles a few millimeters or centimeters (SN: 11/15/14, p. 16). But “the idea of doing this with matter waves is really groovy,” says physicist David Grier of New York University, who was not involved with the research.

Sound or light waves can pull small particles under carefully controlled conditions. For certain types of beams, waves can scatter forward off of a particle, pushing the particle back toward the source of the beam

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