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Optical pulling force



A photon carries k of momentum, so it may be anticipated that light will ‘push’ on any object standing in its path by means of the scattering force1,2,3. In the absence of an intensity gradient, using a light beam to pull a particle backwards is counter-intuitive. Here, we show that it is possible to realize a backward scattering force that pulls a particle all the way towards the source without an equilibrium point. The underlining physics is the maximization of forward scattering via interference of the radiation multipoles. We show explicitly that the necessary condition to realize a negative (pulling) optical force is the simultaneous excitation of multipoles in the particle, and if the projection of the total photon momentum along the propagation direction is small, an attractive optical force is possible. This possibility adds ‘pulling’ as an additional degree of freedom to optical micromanipulation.

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Figure 1: Existence of a backward scattering force on a polystyrene sphere illuminated by a Bessel beam.
Figure 2: Polar plot for normalized scattered irradiance showing the angular dependence of scattered light.
Figure 3: Existence of OPF for particles composed of different material.


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The authors acknowledge support from Hong Kong's Research Grants Council (GRF grant no. 600308), from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) (10774028) and the Chinese Ministry of Education (B06011). Computational resources were supported by the Shun Hing Education and Charity Fund.

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Authors and Affiliations



All authors contributed equally to this paper. J.C. discovered OPF and was responsible for the numerical simulations. J.N. was responsible for the physical interpretation and assisted in the mathematical derivation. Z.F.L. initiated the project and was responsible for most of the mathematical derivation and computer code development. C.T.C. oversaw and directed the whole project.

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Correspondence to Jack Ng.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Chen, J., Ng, J., Lin, Z. et al. Optical pulling force. Nature Photon 5, 531–534 (2011).

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