Technology & Science

Want to 3D print your own sonic tractor beam? Here's how

If you consider yourself a techie, here's a project that could be worth tackling: a sonic tractor beam.

It sounds like it's straight out of science fiction, but you could build one at home

A small polystyrene sphere is levitated with a do-it-yourself portable tractor beam. (Asier Marzo)

If you consider yourself a techie, here's a project that could be worth tackling: a sonic tractor beam.

Although usually considered something straight out of science fiction, tractor beams that use sound waves to levitate, push or pull small objects from a source have been in development for years, but they've been large and expensive devices.

Now, Asier Marzo of the University of Bristol has made a small and simple tractor beam that you can build at home with the help of a 3D printer (with some assembly required).

Marzo and his group of researchers achieved this using readily available electronic components including parts from Arduino, an open-source electronics platform. 

This project is definitely for the technically minded: you can 3D print the bowl of the tractor beam, but you'll also need to program the components and be adept at soldering. 

Research uses

Earlier versions of tractor beams used sonic technology that was quite large and expensive. But this new smaller, cheaper version makes the technology more readily available to those who might want to use it to study various biological effects of micro-gravity, the same kind that astronauts experience in low-Earth orbit.

"Recently there have been several papers about what happens if we levitate an embryo, how does it develop?" Marzo says. "Or what happens if we levitate bacteria? For instance, they discovered salmonella is three times more [virulent] when it's levitated. Certain micro-organisms react differently to microgravity."

If you're looking to build it for yourself, you can find the research in the journal Applied Physics Letters. 

And if you want to check out the science behind the sonic tractor beam, you can watch it below.