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"In 1970 I found little difficulty staying 30 years ahead of the man in the street, and now I find it difficult to stay 18 months ahead of the man on the street."
- Vernor Vinge

Atom-Shifter  
  A device that 'softens' matter, making it possible for a person to pass through.  

He took one hand from the Martian's head, found the atom-shifter slackly caught in a turn of a tentacle. He wrenched it away. He flung a beam against the wall facing the corridor. He waited a moment for the softening process to be complete.

Letting go of his prisoner, he sprang forward. Once more he passed freely through the rayed area. With him went the ray mechanism itself, and behind him stayed the spy he had caught.

From The Worlds of Tomorrow, by Manly Wade Wellman.
Published by Thrilling Wonder Stories in 1940
Additional resources -

Here's how it worked:

An atom-shifting beam, focused at a point, would temporarily change the speed and path of atoms until the hard became soft, the opaque transparent.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Worlds of Tomorrow
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