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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 cell biology, molecular sensing, colloidal sciences, and micro/nanorobotics. They also provide a breakthrough in digital manufacturing of architected nanomaterials and nanodevices. 

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 have dimensions below the wavelength of light and a variety of new optical phenomena can emerge when they are arranged into architected assemblies. We apply new optical manipulation and measurement techniques to construct architected nanomaterials and explore their emergent properties. 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 exploiting the architected nanomaterials to direct light flow and enhance light-matter interactions, we achieve high-performance optical cooling and sensing.