Tractor beams in the Rayleigh limit

Aaron Yevick, David B. Ruffner, David G. Grier

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    A tractor beam is a traveling wave that transports illuminated objects back to its source, opposite to the wave's direction of propagation, along its entire length. The requisite retrograde force arises when an object scatters the wave's momentum density downstream into the direction of propagation and then recoils upstream by conservation of momentum. Achieving this condition imposes constraints on the structure of the wave, which we elucidate in the Rayleigh limit, when the wavelength exceeds the size of the object. Continuously propagation-invariant modes such as Bessel beams do not satisfy these conditions at dipole order in the multipole expansion and so cannot serve as general-purpose long-ranged tractor beams. Modes with discrete propagation invariance, however, can act as first-order tractor beams. We demonstrate this by introducing a class of minimal solenoidal waves together with a set of design criteria that distinguish tractor beams that pull objects from repulsor beams that push them.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Article number043807
    JournalPhysical Review A
    Issue number4
    StatePublished - Apr 5 2016

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics


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