Letter | Published:

Controlling photonic structures using optical forces

Nature volume 462, pages 633636 (03 December 2009) | Download Citation


The use of optical forces to manipulate small objects is well known. Applications include the manipulation of living cells by optical tweezers1 and optical cooling in atomic physics2. The miniaturization of optical systems (to the micro and nanoscale) has resulted in very compliant systems with masses of the order of nanograms, rendering them susceptible to optical forces3,4,5,6. Optical forces have been exploited to demonstrate chaotic quivering of microcavities7, optical cooling of mechanical modes8,9,10,11, actuation of a tapered-fibre waveguide and excitation of the mechanical modes of silicon nano-beams12,13. Despite recent progress in this field14,15,16,17, it is challenging to manipulate the optical response of photonic structures using optical forces; this is because of the large forces that are required to induce appreciable changes in the geometry of the structure. Here we implement a resonant structure whose optical response can be efficiently statically controlled using relatively weak attractive and repulsive optical forces. We demonstrate a static mechanical deformation of up to 20 nanometres in a silicon nitride structure, using three milliwatts of continuous optical power. Because of the sensitivity of the optical response to this deformation, such optically induced static displacement introduces resonance shifts spanning 80 times the intrinsic resonance linewidth.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1.

    & Optical trapping and manipulation of viruses and bacteria. Science 235, 1517–1520 (1987)

  2. 2.

    & Cooling of gases by laser radiation. Opt. Commun. 13, 68–69 (1975)

  3. 3.

    & Electromagnetic forces in photonic crystals. Phys. Rev. B 60, 2363–2374 (1999)

  4. 4.

    , , & Strong optical force induced by morphology-dependent resonances. Opt. Lett. 30, 1956–1958 (2005)

  5. 5.

    et al. Evanescent-wave bonding between optical waveguides. Opt. Lett. 30, 3042–3044 (2005)

  6. 6.

    , & Trapping, corralling and spectral bonding of optical resonances through optically induced potentials. Nature Photon. 1, 658–665 (2007)

  7. 7.

    , & Chaotic quivering of micron-scaled on-chip resonators excited by centrifugal optical pressure. Phys. Rev. Lett. 98, 167203 (2007)

  8. 8.

    & Cavity opto-mechanics. Opt. Express 15, 17172–17205 (2007)

  9. 9.

    & Cavity optomechanics: back-action at the mesoscale. Science 321, 1172–1176 (2008)

  10. 10.

    , , , & Mechanical oscillation and cooling actuated by the optical gradient force. Phys. Rev. Lett. 103, 103601 (2009)

  11. 11.

    , , , & Resolved-sideband cooling of a micromechanical oscillator. Nature Phys. 4, 415–419 (2008)

  12. 12.

    , & Broadband all-photonic transduction of nanocantilevers. Nature Nanotechnol. 4, 377–382 (2009)

  13. 13.

    et al. Harnessing optical forces in integrated photonic circuits. Nature 456, 480–484 (2008)

  14. 14.

    & Optomechanics of strongly coupled stacked monolithic microdisks. Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics/Quantum Electronics and Laser Science Conference and Photonic Applications Systems Technologies JMD1 〈〉 (2008)

  15. 15.

    , & Tunable bipolar optical interactions between guided lightwaves. Nature Photon. 3, 464–468 (2009)

  16. 16.

    et al. Tunable optical forces between nanophotonic waveguides. Nature Nanotechnol. 4, 510–513 (2009)

  17. 17.

    , & Static and dynamic wavelength routing via the gradient optical force. Nature Photon. 3, 478–483 (2009)

  18. 18.

    , , , & Ultralow-dissipation optomechanical resonators on a chip. Nature Photon. 2, 627–633 (2008)

  19. 19.

    , , , & A picogram- and nanometre-scale photonic-crystal optomechanical cavity. Nature 459, 550–555 (2009)

  20. 20.

    & Squeeze film air damping in MEMS. Sens. Actuat. A 136, 3–27 (2007)

  21. 21.

    et al. Optical 4x4 hitless silicon router for optical networks-on-chip (NoC). Opt. Express 16, 15915–15922 (2008)

Download references


This work was supported in part by the National Science Foundation under grant 00446571. We also acknowledge partial support by Cornell University’s Center for Nanoscale Systems. This work was performed in part at the Cornell Nano-Scale Science and Technology Facility (a member of the National Nanofabrication Users Network) which is supported by the National Science Foundation, its users, Cornell University and Industrial users. G.S.W. thanks S. Lee for help in preparing some of the Supplementary Information.

Author Contributions G.S.W. designed, fabricated and tested the devices. L.C. helped in the design, fabrication and testing. A.G. helped with the fabrication. G.S.W., L.C, A.G. and M.L. discussed the results and their implications and contributed to writing this manuscript.

Author information


  1. School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA

    • Gustavo S. Wiederhecker
    • , Long Chen
    • , Alexander Gondarenko
    •  & Michal Lipson


  1. Search for Gustavo S. Wiederhecker in:

  2. Search for Long Chen in:

  3. Search for Alexander Gondarenko in:

  4. Search for Michal Lipson in:

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michal Lipson.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary information

    This file contains Supplementary Data, Supplementary Figures S1-S6 with Legends and Supplementary References.

About this article

Publication history






Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.