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Optical tweezers, a Noble-Prize-winning invention by Arthur Ashkin, are widely used for remote manipulation and study of biological cells and molecules. We have further advanced this technology by developing a series of optothermal manipulation techniques that overcome existing limitations, providing expanded working modes, versatility in working environments, and the ability to target a diverse range of materials, all with reduced optical power requirements, minimal sample damage, and ease of use. These techniques push the frontiers of knowledge in biology and nanoscience, while facilitating the development of micro/nanoscale robots, lab-on-a-chip devices, and nano-architected materials for diverse applications in health, information technology, energy, and environmental sustainability

We exploit dual-faceted optical manipulation (i.e., manipulation by light and manipulation of light) in optical spectroscopy and microscopy to unveil biological structures and functions with high sensitivity, resolution and speed. Leveraging optical rotation and machine learning in standard optical microscopy, we achieve volumetric imaging and accurate classification of organisms. Four-dimensional optical adhesion frequency assay enables comprehensive profiling of cell-cell interactions. Surface-enhanced chiroptical spectroscopy coupled with optical manipulation allows label-free ultrasensitive enantiodiscrimination of chiral molecules. These advances push the boundaries of optical measurement in biology, while offering new opportunities for space life detection, pharmaceutical quality control, and disease diagnosis.

When discrete nanostructures are arranged into nano-architected materials such as metamaterials, a plethora of new optical phenomena emerge, which allow for the manipulation and utilization of light in unprecedented ways. We focus on the creation of these nano-architected materials to improve optical sensing, photochemical reactions, solar energy conversion, passive radiative cooling, optical computing, and quantum communication. We draw inspiration from nature and employ machine learning techniques in order to design nano-architected materials that are precisely customized for targeted applications. Advanced optical techniques are developed to manufacture the nano-architectures on demand and to measure their properties at both the single-nanostructure and ensemble levels.