When Optical Tweezers Met Biology

Patricia Daukantas

Arthur Ashkin’s longtime fascination with light pressure sparked new insights into the mechanical forces that govern biological molecules and cells.

figureJoseph Dziedzic, left, and Arthur Ashkin, right, demonstrating how they can trap and manipulate microscopic living organisms with their optical tweezers. [AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Physics Today Collection]

Of all the Nobel Prize citations in physics, only one mentions biology: that of Arthur Ashkin, the American who was honored in 2018 for applying a laser-based device called optical tweezers to the study of life.

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