Photonics Dictionary

optical tweezers

Optical tweezers refer to a scientific instrument that uses the pressure of laser light to trap and manipulate microscopic objects, such as particles or biological cells, in three dimensions. This technique relies on the momentum transfer of photons from the laser beam to the trapped objects, creating a stable trapping potential. Optical tweezers are widely used in physics, biology, and nanotechnology for studying and manipulating tiny structures at the microscale and nanoscale levels.

Key features of optical tweezers include:

Laser trap: Optical tweezers utilize a focused laser beam to create a region of high light intensity. When a microscopic object enters this region, it experiences a force directed toward the center of the beam, effectively trapping the object in three dimensions.

Trapping forces: The trapping forces arise from the gradient of the light intensity. Objects are drawn into the region of highest intensity, and once there, they experience a restoring force that prevents them from moving away from the trap center.

Precision manipulation: Optical tweezers provide precise control over the position and movement of trapped objects. By adjusting the laser beam's properties, such as intensity and focus, researchers can manipulate particles with great accuracy.

Biological applications: Optical tweezers are extensively used in biological research to manipulate and study individual cells, subcellular structures, and biomolecules. This includes applications in cell sorting, biomechanics, and the study of molecular motors.

Microscale and nanoscale manipulation: Optical tweezers are particularly valuable for manipulating objects at the microscale and nanoscale, where other manipulation techniques may be challenging due to the small size of the objects involved.

Single-molecule studies: Optical tweezers enable the study of individual molecules by trapping and stretching them. This has applications in understanding the mechanical properties of biological molecules, such as DNA and proteins.

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