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Holding onto a Pinch of Light

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TEL AVIV, Israel, July 16, 2010 — A new tool developed at Tel Aviv University, holographic optical tweezers, manipulate up to 300 nanoparticles at a time, manipulating beads of glass or polymers, for instance, that are too small and delicate to be handled with traditional laboratory instruments. The technology, also known as "optical tweezers," could form the basis of future ultrafast light-powered communication devices and quantum computers, according to Dr. Yael Roichman of Tel Aviv University's School of Chemistry.

She's using these tweezers to build nanostructures that control beams of light and that could help develop applications as varied as optical microscopes and light-fueled computer technology.

This diagram shows Tel Aviv University's holographic optical tweezers. (Images: AFTAU)

HOTS use a strongly focused light beam to trap, manipulate and transform small amounts of matter. First proposed as a scientific theory in 1986 and prototyped by a University of Chicago team in 1997, holographic optical tweezers have been lauded as indispensible for researching cutting-edge ideas in physics, chemistry and biology.

Roichman and her team of researchers are currently pioneering the use of optical tweezers to create the next generation of photonic devices. Made out of carefully arranged particles of materials such as silicon oxide and titanium oxide, these devices have the ability to insulate light, allowing less energy to be lost in transmission.

"Our invention could increase transmission speed and save energy, important for long-life batteries in computers, for instance," said Roichman.

Photons are already used in optical fibers that bring us everyday luxuries like cable TV. But Roichman says this technology can be taken much further. In her lab , she is advancing the previous study of photonic crystals, which control and harness light, by manipulating a variety of particles to create 3-D heterogeneous structures. The ability to insulate light in a novel way, preserving its potential energy, is central to this goal.

No known material today can resist the flow of light: Its energy is either absorbed by, reflected off or passed through materials. Roichman, however, has devised a new layering technique using special crystals central to the creation of photonic devices. These photonic crystals are arranged to create a path along which light can travel. If they're arranged correctly, she says, the light is trapped along the path.

In her approach, different materials are added to absorb or amplify light as required. She is hopeful that the ability to build these devices will transform communications, telescopic instruments and even medical technology, making them more efficient and powerful.

One project Roichman is working on tracks the effectiveness of antibiotics. Her improvements to optical microscopy will, for the first time, allow researchers to look at the internal processes within bacteria and see how different types of antibiotics attack them. More than that, her optical tweezers can isolate the bacteria to be studied, handling them without killing them.

Roichman, whose previous research was published in the journals Applied Optics and Physical Review Letters, notes that holographic optical tweezers give researchers a platform with infinite possibilities. They give science a valuable tool to reach into the microscopic world — and their building potential is endless.

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Jul 2010
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
3D heterogeneous structuresBasic ScienceCommunicationsDr. Yael Roichmanholographic optical tweezersindustrialIsraellight beamlight sourcesMicroscopyMiddle Eastnanonano structuresnanoparticlesoptical fibersoptical microscopesoptical microscopyopticsphotonic crystalsphotonicsquantum computersResearch & TechnologyTel Aviv Universitylasers

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