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Italy and Japan join forces to develop a “tractor” laser beam

A laser beam capable of attracting and trapping quantum objects: it is not science fiction but the result of a study revealed in the article “Quantum coherent tractor beam effect for atoms trapped near a nanowaveguide” recently published on Scientific Reports (Springer-Nature Publishing Group). Sandro Wimberger, of the Department of Physics and Earth Sciences of the University of Parma, cooperated with two Japanese teams from the University of Tohoku and from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in a study on the production of a laser beam that attracts and traps infinitely small quantum objects: single atoms or “clouds” of cold atoms. The concept of a “tractor beam” is well represented in science-fiction films in which a beam of light is used to trap and haul enemy space ships.  

The originality of the study consists in the capacity to easily control atoms and to study unknown quantum effects on the same wavelength scale used to create the beam of light. The study can lead to a new form of interaction between light and matter, namely between the light that is transmitted through the fibre and the atoms closely surrounding it.