In a new study, researchers have found a new way to levitate objects only using light.
They did this by creating specific nanoscale patterning on the objects’ surfaces.
The research was conducted by researchers from the California Institute of Technology.
Previous studies have shown that optical tweezers can help scientists move and manipulate tiny objects.
Scientists could do this by using radiative pressure from a focused beam of laser light.
However, one big disadvantage is that optical tweezers could only move very small objects and only with short distances.
In the current study, the team found that they could use a light beam to manipulated objects of many different shapes and sizes.
They created specific nanoscale patterns on an object’s surface. The patterns could interact with light and make a restoring torque to keep it in the light beam.
In this way, the objects’ patterning could “encode” their own stability. The light source can be very far away.
The researchers suggest their work is a step toward a new spacecraft development.
The new spacecraft could reach the nearest planet outside of the solar system in 20 years and it is powered and accelerated only by light.
The spacecraft will not need to carry fuel, it could reach very high speeds and may travel to other stars.
The new technique could also be used to develop ever-smaller objects, like circuit boards.
The leader of the study is Harry Atwater, Howard Hughes Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science in Caltech’s Division of Engineering and Applied Science.
The study is published in Nature Photonics.
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