Donald Umstadter, a physics professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, fronted a research experiment that led to the usage of a new application called the “optical rocket.”

According to a Nebraska Today news release, this application uses the force of light to directly accelerate matter and improve the performance of compact electron accelerators. Through the research, electrons using the “optical rocket” can be launched at a speed almost a trillion-trillion times than the speed of an astronaut launching into space.

The forces exerted by light can become similar to a “light sail,” which could propel a spacecraft years after it has been launched. It can also create an “optical tweezer,” which can manipulate microscopic objects.

This experiment was funded by the National Science Foundation after scientists at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China modeled an experiment related to this subject. Along with Umstadter, the experiment was conducted by UNL students and scientists. Associate research professor Grigoroy Golovin served as the lead author on the paper, which was published in September 2018 in the journal “Physical Review Letters.”