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Nanoscopic control and quantification of enantioselective optical forces


Circularly polarized light (CPL) exerts a force of different magnitude on left- and right-handed enantiomers, an effect that could be exploited for chiral resolution of chemical compounds1,2,3,4,5 as well as controlled assembly of chiral nanostructures6,7. However, enantioselective optical forces are challenging to control and quantify because their magnitude is extremely small (sub-piconewton) and varies in space with sub-micrometre resolution2. Here, we report a technique to both strengthen and visualize these forces, using a chiral atomic force microscope probe coupled to a plasmonic optical tweezer8,9,10,11,12,13. Illumination of the plasmonic tweezer with CPL exerts a force on the microscope tip that depends on the handedness of the light and the tip. In particular, for a left-handed chiral tip, transverse forces are attractive with left-CPL and repulsive with right-CPL. Additionally, total force differences between opposite-handed specimens exceed 10 pN. The microscope tip can map chiral forces with 2 nm lateral resolution, revealing a distinct spatial distribution of forces for each handedness.

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Figure 1: Schematic, microscopic images, and simulations.
Figure 2: Spectroscopically measured optical forces with an achiral tip.
Figure 3: Enantioselective optical forces with achiral and chiral tips.
Figure 4: Enantioselective optical force map.


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The authors thank A. Polman from the Stichting voor Fundamenteel Onderzoek der Materie (FOM) Institute AMOLF for discussions. The authors acknowledge funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, a National Science Foundation CAREER Award (DMR- 1151231), a Presidential Early Career Award administered through the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (FA9550-15-1-0006) and the European Research Council. This work is part of the research programme of FOM, which is part of the Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek.

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Authors and Affiliations



Y.Z. and J.A.D. conceived and designed the experiments. Y.Z., A.A.E.S. and M.A.v.d.H. performed the experiments. A.L. and O.A.R.-B. assisted with the experiments. Y.Z. and B.B. conducted the theory and numerical simulations. Y.Z., J.A.B. and J.A.D. co-wrote the paper. J.A.D. supervised the entire study. All authors contributed to the analysis of the data and revision of the paper.

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Correspondence to Yang Zhao or Jennifer A. Dionne.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Zhao, Y., Saleh, A., van de Haar, M. et al. Nanoscopic control and quantification of enantioselective optical forces. Nature Nanotech 12, 1055–1059 (2017).

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