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Light-driven nanoscale plasmonic motors


When Sir William Crookes developed a four-vaned radiometer, also known as the light-mill, in 1873, it was believed that this device confirmed the existence of linear momentum carried by photons1, as predicted by Maxwell's equations. Although Reynolds later proved that the torque on the radiometer was caused by thermal transpiration2, researchers continued to search for ways to take advantage of the momentum of photons and to use it for generating rotational forces. The ability to provide rotational force at the nanoscale could open up a range of applications in physics, biology and chemistry, including DNA unfolding and sequencing3,4,5,6 and nanoelectromechanical systems7,8,9,10. Here, we demonstrate a nanoscale plasmonic structure that can, when illuminated with linearly polarized light, generate a rotational force that is capable of rotating a silica microdisk that is 4,000 times larger in volume. Furthermore, we can control the rotation velocity and direction by varying the wavelength of the incident light to excite different plasmonic modes.

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Figure 1: Nanometre-scale plasmonic motor.
Figure 2: Sequencing dark-field microscopy images of a rotating silica microdisk, driven by plasmonic motors.
Figure 3: Rotation characteristic and optical properties of the motors.


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This work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy under contract no. DE-AC02-05CH11231 regarding simulations and fabrication, and by the NSF Nano-scale Science and Engineering Center (NSEC) under grant no. CMMI-0751621 for optical characterization.

Author information




M.L. and X.Z. developed the concept. M.L. designed and performed experiments and analysed the data. M.L. and Y.L. implemented the simulation. M.L., T.Z., G.B. and X.Z. discussed the results and wrote the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Xiang Zhang.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Liu, M., Zentgraf, T., Liu, Y. et al. Light-driven nanoscale plasmonic motors. Nature Nanotech 5, 570–573 (2010).

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