Tractor beams have long been a staple of sci-fi, but you might not know that they’ve also existed in the real world for some time, albeit at a very small scale. Microscopic tractor beams, better known as optical tweezers, can pull atoms and nanoparticles for use in medicine and research. But we’ve never actually been able to see this happen.

Now we can.

In a new study published in the journal Optic Express, Chinese scientists created the first tractor beam strong enough to manipulate macroscopic objects. That means you can watch the thing work with the naked eye.

Sure, the initial experiment was done in a highly controlled lab, manipulating a specific type of Graphene composite and under a rarefied gaseous environment with a lower pressure than Earth’s atmosphere. But come on! They used a friggin’ laser to move an object!

The scientists write:

“With our new approach, the light pulling force has a much larger amplitude. In fact, it is more than three orders of magnitudes larger than the light pressure used to drive a solar sail, which uses the momentum of photons to exert a small pushing force.”

In the experiments, a torsional pendulum device presented the laser pulling phenomenon. By controlling the interactions between the light, object, and medium, the new study shows that flexible light manipulation of macroscopical objects is feasible. It also highlights the complexity of laser-matter interactions.

Expect the team, led by Lei Wang, to continuing pushing the possibilities. “Our technique provides a non-contact and long-distance pulling approach, which may be useful for various scientific experiments,” Wang said, via Universe Today.

There’s more to come. From the study:

“This work expands the scope of optical pulling from microscale to macroscale, which has great potential in macroscale optical manipulations.”

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