Modeling and Experimental Techniques to Demonstrate Nanomanipulation With Optical Tweezers

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The development of truly three-dimensional nanodevices is currently impeded by the absence of effective prototyping tools at the nanoscale. Optical trapping is well established for flexible three-dimensional manipulation of components at the microscale. However, it has so far not been demonstrated to confine nanoparticles, for long enough time to be useful in nanoassembly applications. Therefore, as part of this work we demonstrate new techniques that successfully extend optical trapping to nanoscale manipulation.

In order to extend optical trapping to the nanoscale, we must overcome certain challenges. For the same incident beam power, the optical binding forces acting on a nanoparticle within an optical trap are very weak, in comparison with forces acting on microscale particles. Consequently, due to Brownian motion, the nanoparticle often exits the trap in a very short period of time. We improve the performance of optical traps at the nanoscale by using closed-loop control. Furthermore, we show through laboratory experiments that we are able to localize nanoparticles to the trap using control systems, for sufficient time to be useful in nanoassembly applications, conditions under which a static trap set to the same power as the controller is unable to confine a same-sized particle.

Before controlled optical trapping can be demonstrated in the laboratory, key tools must first be developed. We implement Langevin dynamics simulations to model the interaction of nanoparticles with an optical trap. Physically accurate simulations provide a robust platform to test new methods to characterize and improve the performance of optical tweezers at the nanoscale, but depend on accurate trapping force models. Therefore, we have also developed two new laboratory-based force measurement techniques that overcome the drawbacks of conventional force measurements, which do not accurately account for the weak interaction of nanoparticles in an optical trap. Finally, we use numerical simulations to develop new control algorithms that demonstrate significantly enhanced trapping of nanoparticles and implement these techniques in the laboratory.

The algorithms and characterization tools developed as part of this work will allow the development of optical trapping instruments that can confine nanoparticles for longer periods of time than is currently possible, for a given beam power. Furthermore, the low average power achieved by the controller makes this technique especially suitable to manipulate biological specimens, but is also generally beneficial to nanoscale prototyping applications. Therefore, capabilities developed as part of this work, and the technology that results from it may enable the prototyping of three-dimensional nanodevices, critically required in many applications.