Text Size
Facebook Twitter More...

A photon has a small momentum which it can impart to anything it hits, as Arthur Compton and Peter Lebedev discovered at the beginning of the last century. We now know that photons can be used to push anything from electrons to solar sails.

Today, Jun Chen from Fudan University in China and a few pals demonstrate the counterintuitive result that photons can pull things too. In other words, they've worked out how to generate a backward pulling force from a forward propagating beam.

Chen and buddies say this is possible when the system meets two conditions. First, it works only for beams in which the momentum in the direction of propagation is small, as is the case for beams that merely glance off an object. Second, the photons must simultaneously excite several multipoles within the particle, which scatter the beam.

If the scattering angle is just right, the total momentum in the direction of propagation can be negative, meaning the particle is pulled back towards the source and the light becomes a tractor beam.

To read the rest of the article, click here.
Category: Science