Fundamental Limits of Optical Tweezer Nanoparticle Manipulation Speeds

Jeffrey E. Melzer, Euan McLeod

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


Optical tweezers are a noncontact method of 3D positioning applicable to the fields of micro- and nanomanipulation and assembly, among others. In these applications, the ability to manipulate particles over relatively long distances at high speed is essential in determining overall process efficiency and throughput. In order to maximize manipulation speeds, it is necessary to increase the trapping laser power, which is often accompanied by undesirable heating effects due to material absorption. As such, the majority of previous studies focus primarily on trapping large dielectric microspheres using slow movement speeds at low laser powers, over relatively short translation distances. In contrast, we push nanoparticle manipulation beyond the region in which maximum lateral movement speed is linearly proportional to laser power, and investigate the fundamental limits imposed by material absorption, thus quantifying maximum possible speeds attainable with optical tweezers. We find that gold and silver nanospheres of diameter 100 nm are limited to manipulation speeds of ∼0.15 mm/s, while polystyrene spheres of diameter 160 nm can reach speeds up to ∼0.17 mm/s, over distances ranging from 0.1 to 1 mm. When the laser power is increased beyond the values used for these maximum manipulation speeds, the nanoparticles are no longer stably trapped in 3D due to weak confinement as a result of material absorption, heating, microbubble formation, and enhanced Brownian motion. We compared this result to our theoretical model, incorporating optical forces in the Rayleigh regime, Stokes' drag, and absorption effects, and found good agreement. These results show that optical tweezers can be fast enough to compete with other common, serial rapid prototyping and nanofabrication approaches.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2440-2447
Number of pages8
JournalACS Nano
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 27 2018


  • laser heating
  • manipulation
  • nanoassembly
  • nanoparticles
  • Optical tweezers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Materials Science
  • General Engineering
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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