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While the technique and result is a far cry from a projected image of Princess Leia begging for help, scientists have now been able to create a tiny but simple projected 3D image using light and lasers.
Using a barely visible violet laser controlled by mirrors, the researchers trapped a cellulose particle and moved it rapidly through space. The quickly moving mote was illuminated by other, colored lasers, making it visible. By moving the trapped particle fast enough, the researchers were able to trace out patterns in the air that, to an observer, appeared as a single image. “It’s not unlike when you have a sparkler at nighttime and you draw your name in the air,” Smalley says. “We know intellectually that it’s just one spot, but our eyes will integrate if it goes too fast.”
The researchers admit that this research is not aimed at producing 3D TV. Instead, they say its best use would be to provide 3D images of tiny difficult-to-see places, such as human internal organs that physicians might need to travel through remotely to complete a surgery. The images, provided prior to surgery, would help make that surgery safer and more reliable.