Researchers Levitated a Small Tray Using Nothing but Light

One day a “magic carpet” based on this light-induced flow technology could carry climate sensors high in the atmosphere—wind permitting.

In the basement of a University of Pennsylvania engineering building, Mohsen Azadi and his labmates huddled around a set of blinding LEDs set beneath an acrylic vacuum chamber. They stared at the lights, their cameras, and what they hoped would soon be some action from the two tiny plastic plates sitting inside the enclosure. “We didn’t know what we were expecting to see,” says Azadi, a mechanical engineering PhD candidate. “But we hoped to see something.

Let’s put it this way: They wanted to see if those

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