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Best of 2011: How To Turn A Laser Into A Tractor Beam

In February, we saw how to generate a backward-pulling force from a forward-propagating beam

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.

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