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Microscopic metavehicles powered and steered by embedded optical metasurfaces



Nanostructured dielectric metasurfaces offer unprecedented opportunities to manipulate light by imprinting an arbitrary phase gradient on an impinging wavefront1. This has resulted in the realization of a range of flat analogues to classical optical components, such as lenses, waveplates and axicons2,3,4,5,6. However, the change in linear and angular optical momentum7 associated with phase manipulation also results in previously unexploited forces and torques that act on the metasurface itself. Here we show that these optomechanical effects can be utilized to construct optical metavehicles—microscopic particles that can travel long distances under low-intensity plane-wave illumination while being steered by the polarization of the incident light. We demonstrate movement in complex patterns, self-correcting motion and an application as transport vehicles for microscopic cargoes, which include unicellular organisms. The abundance of possible optical metasurfaces attests to the prospect of developing a wide variety of metavehicles with specialized functional behaviours.

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Fig. 1: From stationary metasurfaces to mobile metavehicles.
Fig. 2: Optical properties enabling metavehicle propulsion and steering.
Fig. 3: Basic metavehicle driving modes.
Fig. 4: Metavehicles in complex and parallel motion and as transport vehicles.

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Data availability

The datasets analysed during the current study can be downloaded from The data will be available after an embargo period of six months, which starts from the final publication date of the manuscript.

Code availability

The codes used during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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This work was supported by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the Swedish Research Council and the Excellence Initiative Nano at Chalmers University of Technology. The nanofabrication for this work was performed at Myfab Chalmers.

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Authors and Affiliations



M.K. and D.A. conceived the study. D.A. manufactured samples, performed experiments and analysed data. D.G.B. performed the electrodynamics simulations and optimization. S.J. performed the hydrodynamic simulations. D.A., M.K. and D.G.B wrote the paper with input from all the authors.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Daniel Andrén or Mikael Käll.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature Nanotechnology thanks Vincent Ginis, Pavel Ginzburg and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–9.

Supplementary Video 1

Straight long travelling of metavehicle under linearly polarized illumination.

Supplementary Video 2

Orbital travelling of metavehicle under left-handed circularly polarized light illumination.

Supplementary Video 3

Orbital travelling of metavehicle under right-handed circularly polarized light illumination.

Supplementary Video 4

Example 1 of metavehicle propulsion along user-controlled trajectories.

Supplementary Video 5

Example 2 of metavehicle propulsion along user-controlled trajectories.

Supplementary Video 6

Metavehicles can be driven in parallel within the same extended illuminated area.

Supplementary Video 7

Metavehicle transporting a polystyrene sphere.

Supplementary Video 8

Metavehicle transporting a single yeast cell.

Supplementary Video 9

Metavehicle transporting a piece of dust.

Supplementary Video 10

Metavehicle performing stochastic Brownian motion when under no laser illumination.

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Andrén, D., Baranov, D.G., Jones, S. et al. Microscopic metavehicles powered and steered by embedded optical metasurfaces. Nat. Nanotechnol. 16, 970–974 (2021).

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