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Nobel Prize in Physics 2018

This collection of research papers, reviews, commentaries and associated content from Nature Research celebrates the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics for “ground-breaking inventions in the field of laser physics”. Half of the prize has been awarded to Arthur Ashkin for the invention of optical tweezers and their application in biology. The other half has been awarded to Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland for the invention of the chirped pulse amplification method for generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses which underpins applications such as laser eye surgery, laser fusion and laser particle acceleration. This collection illustrates the breadth, diversity and impact that these optical techniques have had in science.

Optical Tweezer Research

A dual-trap force-clamp configuration is used to apply a constant load between a binding protein and a single intermittently interacting biological polymer. This allows high-resolution measurements of short-lived molecular complexes and reveals previously undetected complex regulation of the myosin working stroke.

Article | | Nature Methods

Through shaping of colloidal particles, optical traps with prescribed force–displacement profiles are generated and are used to design a microscopic constant-force spring capable of delivering a constant piconewton-scale restoring force for displacements of several micrometres. Potential future applications include the imaging of sensitive biological membranes.

Article | | Nature Photonics

Quantum state preparation of mesoscopic objects is a powerful tool for the study of physics at the limits. Here, Arita et al. realise the optical trapping of a microgyroscope rotating at MHz rates in vacuum where the coupling between the rotational and translational motion cools the particle to 40 K.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Nanomechanical sensors that rely on intrinsic resonance frequencies usually present a tradeoff between sensitivity and bandwidth. In this work, the authors realise an optically driven nanorotor featuring high frequency stability and tunability over a large frequency range.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The neural circuits of the vestibular system, which detects gravity and motion, remain incompletely characterised. Here the authors use an optical trap to manipulate otoliths (ear stones) in zebrafish larvae, and elicit corrective tail movements and eye rolling, thus establishing a method for mapping vestibular processing.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Optical Tweezer Discussion

Since the first discovery of optical gradient and scattering forces in 1970, optical tweezers have helped unveil many mysteries and given deeper insights in many areas of science. Arthur Ashkin, the father of optical tweezers, recalls some 'eureka' moments and shares his viewpoint of the field with Nature Photonics.

Interview | | Nature Photonics

Since the discovery of the optical gradient force in 1970 and the first use of laser beams to manipulate microscopic and atomic systems in 1986, optical manipulation has proved to be a versatile optical tool for uncovering mysteries throughout many fields of science.

Editorial | | Nature Photonics

Optical tweezers have become one of the primary weapons in the arsenal of biophysicists, and have revolutionized the new field of single-molecule biophysics. Today's techniques allow high-resolution experiments on biological macromolecules that were mere pipe dreams only a decade ago.

Commentary | | Nature Photonics

Using projected light patterns to form virtual electrodes on a photosensitive substrate, optoelectronic tweezers are able to grab and move micro- and nanoscale objects at will, facilitating applications far beyond biology and colloidal science.

Commentary | | Nature Photonics

Heating due to optical losses in metal nanoparticles, which is usually an unwanted side effect, is harnessed to realize low-power opto-thermoelectric nanotweezers.

Article | | Nature Photonics

Chirped Pulse Amplification Research

Based on a passively phase-locked superposition of a dispersive wave and a soliton from two branches of a femtosecond Er-doped fibre laser, researchers demonstrate that single cycles of light can be achieved using existing fibre technology and standard free-space components. The pulses have a pulse duration of 4.3 fs, close to the shortest possible value for a data bit of information transmitted in the near-infrared.

Letter | | Nature Photonics

Short laser pulses of femtosecond time scales are in high demand in order to explore the fast electron dynamics in light-matter interactions. Here, the authors demonstrated the compression of free electron laser pulses in the extreme ultraviolet range by using a chirped pulse amplification technique.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Spatially coherent 11.45 nm radiation is produced by outcoupling the harmonics of cavity-enhanced nonlinearly compressed pulses from a Yb-based laser through a pierced cavity mirror. This technique may lead to high-photon-flux ultrashort-pulse extreme-ultraviolet sources for use in a wide range of applications.

Letter | | Nature Photonics

Recently, there has been significant progress on the application of laser-generated proton beams in material science. Here the authors demonstrate the benefit of employing such beams in stress testing different materials by examining their mechanical, optical, electrical, and morphological properties.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Chirped Pulse Amplification Discussion

Ultrafast fibre lasers are an important optical system with industrial, medical and purely scientific applications. Essential components and the operation regimes of ultrafast fibre laser systems are reviewed, as are their use in various applications.

Review Article | | Nature Photonics

Could massive arrays of thousands of fibre lasers be the driving force behind next-generation particle accelerators? The International Coherent Amplification Network project believes so and is currently performing a feasibility study.

Commentary | | Nature Photonics

Increasing the power of ultra-high-intensity lasers requires crystal amplifiers and metre-scale optical compression gratings that are ever more difficult to build. Simulations suggest that Raman amplification in a plasma could permit the generation of laser intensities many orders of magnitude higher than currently possible.

News & Views | | Nature Physics

The Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI) project is dedicated to the investigation of light–matter interactions at high laser intensities and on short timescales.

Editorial | | Nature Materials