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January 4, 2017

VIDEO: Scientist shows how to build your own tractor beam at home

If you’ve ever found yourself watching Star Trek as the USS Enterprise used its tractor beam to immobilize a Klingon spacecraft and thought it’d be great to have one of your very own, you’re in luck, because a University of Bristol researcher has put together a handy DIY guide.

Not simply content to be part of the research team that built the first single-sided acoustic tractor beam able to trap and pull object from one direction using sound waves, research associate Asier Marzo has now published a detailed set of instructions in the journal Applied Physics Letters and uploaded a YouTube video that shows you how to create your own version of the device:

According to CNET and Gizmodo, Marzo and his colleagues needed to make some changes to their original design in order to make a DIY version doable, but in the end, their method uses 3D printing technology and a handful of inexpensive components to build- meaning that anyone with the knowhow and a little extra cash laying around could theoretically build their very own acoustic tractor beam.

“Previously we developed a tractor beam, but it was very complicated and pricey because it required a phase array, which is a complex electronic system. In this paper, we made a simple, static tractor beam that only requires a static piece of matter,” Marzo said in a statement, adding that the required parts “can be bought on Amazon for less than £50 (or approximately $70).”

So what exactly could I do with my own tractor beam?

As the Bristol researcher explained in an interview with ResearchGate, the single-sided tractor beam he and his fellow researchers originally developed used acoustic waves to attract objects towards the source of those waves. While scientists have created similar devices that used lasers, the sound-based system can move heavier objects and will not damage trapped items.

Essentially, their device worked by generating acoustic holograms which surround the trapped particles from all directions, he said. It did so by using dozens of tiny speakers that each emitted the same amplitude and frequency, but with different phases, creating 3D interference patterns. The device can be used for contactless processing of biological samples, Marzo noted, and would allow chemical compounds to be combined without potential contamination.

When it came to developing a 3D printable, DIY version of the technology, Marzo explained that he and his colleagues encountered a multitude of challenges, including creating a new design that could be easily created using additive manufacturing systems and finding components capable of simulating their results while also keeping the costs down.

“The original version is more versatile in the type of traps it can create and the fact that it can refocus the trap electronically at any point. That is, the original version can rotate and move the particles in any direction whereas the 3D-printable version can only move them up and down,” Marzo told ResearchGate.

On the plus side, he said, the DIY version is “cheaper and less complex,” and can be built by anyone with “basic skills, like soldering.” He added that the project is “a nice way to get started with electronics,” noting that he and his colleagues eventually plan to “to create a kit with all the necessary parts and then show school students how to build a tractor beam and what sort of experiments can be done with them.”

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Image credit: BristolIG/YouTube