Conceptual illustration of a nano-pattern object switching itself to remain in a beam of light. (Credit: Courtesy of the Atwater laboratory)
Turns out the key to making things lighter than air is…light!
California scientists believe they have found a way to get objects to levitate with the aid of concentrated light — a theory which could even propel spacecraft further than they have ever traveled before, according to a report.
Researchers from the California Institute of Technology believe that by covering the surfaces of objects with microscopic nano-patterns which are specially designed to interact with beams of light, they can be powered without fuel — and potentially by sources of light millions of miles away, according to Phys.org.
The findings, first detailed in the online science journal Nature Photonics, scientists have drooling over the possible out-of-this-world applications. One would be the development of a spaceship to the nearest planet outside our solar system in only 20 years. On the other hand took the Voyager spacecraft is about 26 years from our own solar system.
“There is an unashamed interesting application to use this technique as a means for the propulsion of a new generation of spacecraft,” said professor Harry Atwater, whose lab was the playground for the US Air Force-funded study. “We are a long way from actually doing that, but we are in the process of testing the principles.”
Because the concept would be the need for fuel on board, spacecraft could travel lighter, faster and farther than ever before, according to Phys.org.
Back on Earth, the technology can accelerate the production of small objects, such as printed circuit boards, Atwater told the site.
The idea is, in essence, a larger-scale application of the decades-old ” optical tweezers,” which use the pressure of focused beams of light to move small objects on short distances, the report said.
This story was previously published in the New York Post.