Optical tweezers have been used by biophysicists since their invention at Bell Labs in the 1980s, and are typically used to study cellular components. But they have a few drawbacks, not least of which are overheating and inefficiency.
So engineers at Harvard have been working on a next-gen model they call plasmonic nanotweezers to solve those and other issues with traditional optical tweezers so that tiny particles such as viruses can be isolated, observed, and manipulated.
Back at Bell Labs, scientists had shined a laser through a microscope lens to focus it tightly. They found that light, made of electromagnetic waves, creates a gradient force at the point of focus that is capable of attracting a tiny particle and holding it in that beam of light until random motion or some other force knocks it out.
The basic limitation of this approach is that a lens cannot focus that beam beyond half the wavelength of light, so if the particle the researchers hope to trap is smaller than the focal spot, they might have trouble trapping it.
Meanwhile, that focal size limit also places an upper limit on the gradient force generated, and yet a stronger force is required to trap nanoscale particles. So for a conventional optical tweezer to capture nanoscale particles, a high-powered laser is required.… Read more