IAS Commons

Using Light to Do Things that Light Is Not Supposed to Do


In the TV/movie Star Trek, the starship Enterprise can pull an object without touching it using a "tractor beam". Can light be used as a tractor beam? Not so, according to Physics textbooks. Textbook teaches us that when light illuminates an object, the photons (particles of light) bounce back and the recoil pushes the object away. This allows light to push an object, but it cannot pull. But the speaker will show that under some special circumstances, light can indeed pull and thus the science fiction notion of "tractor beam” can be realized in some situations. The speaker will also show that in addition to push and pull, light can also guide an object to go sideways and clockwise rotating polarized light and make an object to turn counterclockwise.

About the speaker

Prof. Chan Che Ting received his BSc from the University of Hong Kong in 1980 and his PhD from the University of California at Berkeley in 1985. Before joining HKUST, he was a staff physicist for 10 years at Ames Laboratory in US. He is currently Chair Professor of Physics at HKUST and also the Executive Director of the HKUST Jockey Club Insitute for Advanced Study.

Prof. Chan's primary research interest is the theory and simulation of material properties. He is now working on the theory a variety of advanced materials, including photonic crystals, metamaterials and nano-materials.

Prof. Chan has been elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society since 1996. He received the Achievement in Asia Award of the Overseas Chinese Physics Association in 2000 and Croucher Senior Research Fellowship in 2010. He received the Michael Gale Medal for Distinguished Teaching at HKUST in 1999 and is a co-recipient of Brillouin Medal for his research in phononic metamaterials in 2013.


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