The holographic endoscopy team created the first optical traps by controlling the propagation of light through multimode optical fibers.

By T. Čižmár // I. Leite

Optical traps are highly concentrated beams of light with which microscopically small objects such as cells or DNA can be captured, moved, and examined. Such tweezers made of light are not new. Due to their relatively large optics, researchers have so far only been able to investigate biomolecules and their function outside the cell (i.e., not in their natural environment).

The team of scientists led by Tomáš Čižmár has now succeeded for the first time in guiding bundles of light through hair-thin optical glass fibers. This is technology that is reminiscent of the “radiation cannons” seen in the Ghostbusters movie. Due to their small diameter, the multimodal fibers can penetrate living tissues and organisms without damaging them. “We now have the opportunity to penetrate into previously inaccessible tissue regions and observe cell components or individual molecules in their natural, complex environment. We hope to gain a better understanding of cellular processes, especially those that lead to the development of diseases, in the future,” said Čižmár, describing a possible application of the technology.

The research work presented here shows that light and fiber-based optical traps can be used to position three-dimensional microobjects in real time and with nanometer-precise spatial resolution. The results form the basis for further research projects with the aim of developing hair-thin endoscopic fiber probes for imaging living organisms in regions that are difficult to access.

The authors of the article, which was published in Nature Photonics on the 4thof December, are an international team of scientists from Dundee (Scotland), Brno (Czech Republic), the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Light in Erlangen, and Leibniz IPHT in Jena.

Funded by: People Programme, Free State Thuringia, EFRE, University of Dundee, Scottish Universities Physics Alliance