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  • Optical tweezers, invented 50 years ago by Arthur Ashkin at Bell Labs and recognized by a Nobel Prize in Physics, is the standard method for manipulating and studying biological cells and molecules in a remote way. We have invented a series of optical manipulation techniques that break existing bottlenecks in optical tweezers and exhibit multiple advantages over the state-of-the-art: low power, simple optics, easy operation, and compact system. Our manipulation techniques enable new research in cell biology, molecular sensing, and nanorobotics, which have been prevented by high temperature and photodamage to cells, molecules, and nanoparticles in conventional optical tweezers. They also provide a breakthrough in digital manufacturing of architected nanomaterials and nanodevices with new functions and ultimate miniaturization. 

  • Many of the basic molecular building blocks of life are chiral species, which cannot be superimposed onto their mirror images. Efficient analysis, purification and asymmetric synthesis of chiral molecules are critical for disease diagnostics, pharmaceuticals, and space life detection. We develop nanomaterial-enhanced chiroptical measurement and manipulation for label-free enantiodiscrimination and enantioselective separation of chiral molecules. With its high sensitivity, low sample consumption, fast response, easy operation, and compactness, our chiroptical spectroscopy is being implemented for in situ space life detection and point-of-care testing of chiral biomarkers of diseases and complications. 

  • Nanoscale materials such as nanoparticles, nanowires and nanomembranes have dimensions below the wavelength of light and a variety of new optical phenomena can emerge when they are arranged in architected assemblies. We employ our optical manipulation and spectroscopy to construct nanomaterials into architected assemblies and explore their emergent properties. By arranging semiconducting nanomaterials and fluorescence dyes nearby to metal or dielectric nanoparticles, we direct energy and electron migration to enhance light absorption or emission processes, which are fundamental to solar energy conversion and optical communication. We also achieve efficient passive radiative cooling and high-performance optical sensors by directing the flow of energy and enhancing the light-analyte interactions through the architected nanomaterials.


We innovate optical manipulation and measurement for nanoscale, biological and extraterrestrial world. Our mission is to:

  • improve fundamental understanding of light-matter interactions and multiphysics at the nanoscale;
  • develop machine learning models for optical inverse design and data analysis;
  • develop optically active materials, devices, and tools for applications in biomedicine, astrobiology, information technology, and energy; and
  • promote interdisciplinary trainings in science, engineering, and medicine.

 Principal Investigator:

 Yuebing Zheng, Associate Professor                       William W. Hagerty Fellowship in Engineering 
 Walker Department of Mechanical Engineering
 Materials Science and Engineering Program
 The University of Texas at Austin
 Austin, TX 78712, United States
 Phone: 1 (512) 471-0228

We are also affiliated with Department of Electrical and  Computer Engineering, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Texas Materials Institute, Center for Electrochemistry, and Center for Planetary Systems Habitability.

Featured Research

Opto-Thermoelectric Pulling of Particles [LSA (2020)]

Solid-Phase Optical Tweezers [Nature Communications (2019)

Reconfigurable Chiral Metamolecules [Materials Today (2019)]

Opto-Thermoelectric Nanotweezers [Nature Photonics (2018)]

Opto-Thermophoretic Tweezers [ACS Nano (2017)]

Bubble-Pen Lithography [Nano Lett. 16 (2016) 701]