Industrial Electronics

Watch a tractor beam guide the lightning

15 November 2020

An increased incidence of lightning has recently sparked devastating wildfires in Australia and California, spurring an international research team to advance technology for directing and dissipating these atmospheric electrical discharges along a predetermined path.

The researchers demonstrated the potential for laser tractor beam technology to control the path and direction of lightning. Laboratory experiments suspended graphene microparticles in air between two plane electrodes. Upon low-intensity illumination by a slowly diverging laser vortex beam, the particles are trapped and heated via light absorption. Air temperature increases as conditions are created to enable discharge over sustained predefined paths formed by channels of ionized air.

The particles are transported along the beam propagation direction, with the vortex beam providing remote delivery of the particles to a desired location and controlling electrical discharge pathways in mid-air. The research published in Nature Communications may have applications for reducing bushfire risk as the laser-based “tractor beam” can be guided over long distances and allows for precision control of the lightning's discharge. The technology might also be applied for the micro-scale control of electrical discharge in medical and manufacturing applications.

Scientists from Australian National University, University of California Los Angeles, Texas A&M University at Qatar and University of New South Wales (Australia) contributed to this study.

A laser vortex beam traps, heats and directs the path of particles. Source: V. Shvedov et al.A laser vortex beam traps, heats and directs the path of particles. Source: V. Shvedov et al.

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