Australian researchers have this week created a small-scale ‘tractor beam’ that can move tiny particles over a distance of 20cm in the lab.
It’s not quite on the scale of the Star Trek Enterprise’s tractor beam, which could be used to tow other spacecraft to safety, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Captain Kirk and his crew got their hands on so many cool toys, many of which have inspired whole areas of scientific research.
We don’t quite have phasers yet, but Dr Martin Cooper – who invented mobile phones – has always said that Star Trek’s communicators inspired him.
Mirror Tech takes a look at how close we are to turning sci-fi tech into science fact.
A team from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands showed for the first time in May 2014 that it was possible to teleport information encoded into sub-atomic particles between two points three metres apart with 100% reliability.
Teleportation exploits the weird way ‘entangled’ particles acquire a merged identity – one instantly influencing the other no matter how far apart they are.
Albert Einstein dismissed entanglement, calling it “spooky action at a distance”, but scientists have repeatedly demonstrated that it is a real phenomenon.
Professor Ronald Hanson says nothing in the laws of physics fundamentally forbids the teleportation of large objects, including humans.
“What we are teleporting is the state of a particle,” he said. “If you believe we are nothing more than a collection of atoms strung together in a particular way, then in principle it should be possible to teleport ourselves from one place to another.
“In practice it’s extremely unlikely, but to say it can never work is very dangerous… If it ever does happen it will be far in the future.”
For those with a fear of needles, the hypospray was the dream invention.
It used air pressure to force drugs through the skin without a jab.
Dr Leonard “Bones” McCoy was seen using one aboard the Enterprise on a weekly basis in the original series – and it could become a regular sight in present-day GP surgeries, too.
Scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US have developed their own “hypospray” that uses magnets and electrical currents to fire drugs through the skin.
Dr Ian Hunter, who runs the bioinstrumentation lab at MIT, says: “We are able to fire the drug out at almost the speed of sound if we need to.”
He says hypospray could even be used to inject drugs through the eye into the retina or into the inner ear.
On the Enterprise, the replicator is used to conjure up food, water, clothes and other everyday items.
Today scientists have achieved something similar by creating a 3D plastic printer.
Earlier this week we revealed how a US firm has developed a working plastic gun but there are many positive aspects to report.
Surgeons at Charing Cross Hospital in London have printed a plastic knee joint for a soldier shot in Iraq.
And pioneers in San Francisco have built a working plastic car.
But the best is still to come. Scientists at the University of St Andrews have “printed” stem cells.
Dr Will Shu hopes the technology could be used to create tissue to test drugs or even print organs for transplant use, solving the shortage of donors for good.
This was one of the most iconic gadgets from the Star Trek franchise and was even powerful enough to trap and pull giant spaceships.
Scientists are still some way from turning science fiction into reality but they have taken the first steps towards doing so.
For several years optical tweezers – incredibly tiny laser beams capable of moving molecules – have been used by scientists in order to study DNA.
This week we heard of a team at Australian State University that had moved a tiny particle more than 20cm using just lasers.
And in January a research team at the University of St Andrews announced that they had used the first real-life tractor beam and had succeeded in pulling a string of microscopic particles using light.
Lead researcher Dr Tomas Cizmar says the tractor beam could have medical uses, such as separating white blood cells.
However, he says using this technique to trap a spaceship would be “out of the question” as it would result in a “massive” amount of heat.
ANOTHER popular idea from Star Trek: The Next Generation was the holodeck.
The room created 3D holograms which felt real and were used for training or where the crew could relax.
Scientists may not be able to create holograms we can touch but a team at the University of Illinois recently unveiled the first holodeck.
People wearing 3D glasses step into a virtual world mapped out across 72 screens.
With the glasses on, you can fly over the surface of Mars or even stroll around the bridge of the USS Enterprise.
Jason Leigh, director of the Electronic Visualisation Laboratory in Chicago, says: “A lot of what we create is really inspired by the science fiction that we used to watch when we were kids.”
Scientists believe the holodeck could be used to train surgeons, map crime rates and help engineers improve their designs.
Similar technology could also be used to transform your living room into a virtual reality cinema.
Lt Commander Geordi La Forge was a popular character in Star Trek: The Next Generation and was instantly recognisable from his visor, which helped him to see even though he was blind.
It may sound far-fetched but scientists are already using similar technology.
They have developed a camera fitted to glasses that sends images to a tiny implant behind the eye.
Retired engineer Eric Selby, 70, was one of the first people to trial the technology.
He began to lose his sight as a young man and by his late 40s the hereditary condition had left him blind.
But the bionic eye means he can now see flashes of light, so can sort his socks and spot the kerb while walking.
Eric, from Coventry, says: “After the operation the doctor turned my head and I saw a flash of light. It was a hell of an experience.”
Others in the trial have even been able to identify different shapes and start to read.
The crew of the Enterprise were able to communicate with the aliens they came across thanks to their nifty universal translator.
Amazingly, a similar device is now issued to US troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and south-east Asia. Speak into the Phraselator and it translates your words into the language of your choice.
It can translate to and from a language, allowing two-way conversations.
Military commanders hope it will help to break down the mistrust between locals and troops.
Clayton Millis, managing director of sales at Voxtec International, which makes the device, says: “You can speak freely off the top of your head and say what you need to say for that situation.”