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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: enhanced functionality, low optical power, reduced temperature and photodamage, simple optics, easy operation, and compact system. Our manipulation techniques enable new research in biology, colloidal science, nanoscience and nanorobotics. They also provide a breakthrough in digital manufacturing of micro-/nano-architected materials and devices with colloidal particles as building blocks. 

  • We innovate optical measurement to reveal identities, structures, interactions and functions of living cells, nanomaterials and molecules at high sensitivity, resolution, accuracy and speed. We have developed metamaterial-enhanced chiroptical spectroscopy for label-free enantiodiscrimination of chiral molecules. Many of the basic molecular building blocks of life are chiral species, which cannot be superimposed onto their mirror images. Revealing molecular chirality is critical to disease diagnostics, pharmaceuticals, and space life detection. With its high sensitivity, compactness and easy operation, our chiroptical spectroscopy is promising for in situ space life detection and point-of-care testing of chiral biomarkers of diseases. 

  • New optical phenomena emerge when discrete nanomaterials are arranged into nano-architected materials, enhancing manipulation and utilization of light. We apply optical manipulation and measurement technologies to construct nano-architected materials and explore their emergent properties for various applications. By arranging semiconducting nanomaterials 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 communications. By directing light flow and enhancing light-matter interactions, nano-architected materials enable high-performance optical cooling and sensing.


We innovate optical manipulation and measurement for nanoscale, biological and extraterrestrial world, 

  • improving fundamental understanding of light-matter interactions and opto-thermo-fluidic multiphysics at the nanoscale,
  • developing machine learning models for optical inverse design and data analysis, and
  • developing and applying new materials, devices and systems enabled by innovative optical manipulation and measurement.

 Principal Investigator:

 Yuebing Zheng, Associate Professor                       Temple Foundation Endowed 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

Optical Nanomotors on Solid Substrates [ACS Nano (2022)]

Opto-Refrigerative Tweezers [Science Advances (2021)]

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 Letters (2016)]