Engage the Tractor Beam! Scientists Make One That Works in Water

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Like in "Star Wars" and "Star Trek," a new tractor beam developed by Australian researchers can pull objects toward itself. Not that it will be used in any space battles. This tractor beam is meant to be used in water, possibly to pull in ships, clean up oil spills or — good news for lazy surfers — move objects out to sea, even against the waves.

How does it work? Dr. Horst Punzmann and his team from Australian National University (ANU) found a way to generate complex, three-dimensional waves that can create any kind of surface flow that they want. The technique let them move a ping-pong ball in any direction. Of course, a tiny pool of water in a lab is different than the ocean, meaning they probably won't appear on the high seas in the near future. But Punzmann noted that the research, recently published in "Nature Physics," could lead to a better understanding of rip currents, which kill around 100 Americans every year.



-- Keith Wagstaff