Tweezers with a twist


The fact that light carries both linear and angular momentum is well-known to physicists. One application of the linear momentum of light is for optical tweezers, in which the refraction of a laser beam through a particle provides a reaction force that draws the particle towards the centre of the beam. The angular momentum of light can also be transfered to particles, causing them to spin. In fact, the angular momentum of light has two components that act through different mechanisms on various types of particle. This Review covers the creation of such beams and how their unusual intensity, polarization and phase structure has been put to use in the field of optical manipulation.

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Figure 1: Light beams can carry both OAM and spin angular momentum.
Figure 2: Several different force mechanisms are involved in optical trapping.
Figure 3: Different methods of applying optical torque.
Figure 4: 1-µm-diameter beads circulate when held in an optical vortex.
Figure 5: A microfluidic pump can be created using two birefringent particles.
Figure 6: A microfabricated paddle-wheel is driven by the scattering force from a laser beam.


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M.J.P. acknowledges financial support from the Royal Society. Figures 24 were produced with TIM, a custom Java raytracer (

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Padgett, M., Bowman, R. Tweezers with a twist. Nature Photon 5, 343–348 (2011).

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