01 July 2004 Scientists from seven countries collaborate in NEST-European project to broaden tweezer technology

ICFO’s Nanophotonics group investigate how optical traps can be formed on a nanometer scale Optical tweezers are intense laser beams used to grasp and manipulate microscopic objects such as living single cells without physically touching them. At present, the wavelength of laser beams is not much shorter than a micrometer, but if the objective is to hold viruses or even single molecules, much finer tweezers would be needed.

The aim of an ambitious NEST (New and Emerging Science and Technology) project called ‘Advanced techniques for manipulation’ (using novel 3D light field synthesis, or ATOM 3D), is to create a new whole range of optical manipulating tools with numerous applications in molecular biology and miniaturization technology. There are seven countries involved in this visionary European project: The Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Hungary, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

One of the project’s priorities is to investigate in what way optical traps -the jaws of the tweezers- can be formed in a nanometer scale, a thousand times smaller than today. This part of the project is conducted by ICFO’s-Institut de Ciències Fotòniques, Nanophotonics group.

ATOM 3D is one of the 10 NEST-funded projects and it has been selected among more than 180 research proposals received on the first call.