Computing

Physicists have used lasers and trapped particles to create impressive moving 3-D images.

How it works: Laser beams are used to create forces that move a particle of cellulose through the air, while another set of lasers is used to illuminate it. By moving the particle very fast, it’s possible to make what appears to the human eye as a moving image.

Better than holograms? The images can be viewed from any angle. That’s not true of holograms, notes a Nature news article: they have a narrow viewing angle, owing to their projection from a 2-D surface.

But: The technique, described in a paper in Nature, creates tiny images—just millimeters across. And it’s only able to make line drawings, because the speed at which the particle can be moved is limited. It could also be disrupted by a stiff breeze.

Why it matters: If those caveats can be overcome, the technology could eventually be used to create truly mind-blowing new kinds of 3-D displays.