Technology from Star Trek in The 60’s is Now A Reality
It’s technology Jim but not as we know it! Scientists in Spain and the UK have made Science Fiction a fact as they have invented an Acoustic Tractor Beam system that can manipulate and spin small objects. The Star Trek version could hold space ships so this is on a much smaller basis. Even so, the Inventors hope that the technology can be used to operate micro-surgical instruments inside patients’ bodies, and potentially deliver drugs direct to damaged tissues.
Writing in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers describe how they used ultrasound to move tiny polystyrene beads measuring only 3mm across and weighing a fraction of a gram.
“We can move bigger and heavier objects than we have done, but the main application is going smaller to manipulate things inside the human body,” said Asier Marzo, who worked on the project.
The technology works by using an array of flat speakers to produce acoustic holograms. Just as visual holograms are produced in 3D from interfering light waves, so acoustic holograms are made by interfering sound waves. When the peaks of two waves meet, they produce a greater amplitude; when a peak meets a trough they cancel out.
Marzo’s team showed that by carefully adjusting the sound waves, they could create moving acoustic holograms that worked like 3D cages, tweezers or rotating spirals that could lift, grab, spin and nudge tiny particles around.
The sonic tractor beam uses a 3D hologram with the shape of a cage or bottle in which the object to be moved is captured. The walls of the cage are created by high pressure ultrasound waves, while inside the cage, the pressure is close to zero.
Because sound waves can travel through body tissues, the scientists see medical applications as a priority for the technology. “It could be used to manipulate kidney stones, clots, or microsurgical instruments that you control from outside, without having to make any incisions in the patient,” said Marzo. “Or you could hold a drug wherever you wanted to inside a patient, so it doesn’t go anywhere else in the body.”