Introduction to optical tweezers

Matthias D. Koch, Joshua W. Shaevitz

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

12 Scopus citations


Thirty years after their invention by Arthur Ashkin and colleagues at Bell Labs in 1986 [1], optical tweezers (or traps) have become a versatile tool to address numerous biological problems. Put simply, an optical trap is a highly focused laser beam that is capable of holding and applying forces to micron-sized dielectric objects. However, their development over the last few decades has converted these tools from boutique instruments into highly versatile instruments of molecular biophysics. This introductory chapter intends to give a brief overview of the field, highlight some important scientific achievements, and demonstrate why optical traps have become a powerful tool in the biological sciences. We introduce a typical optical setup, describe the basic theoretical concepts of how trapping forces arise, and present the quantitative position and force measurement techniques that are most widely used today.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationMethods in Molecular Biology
PublisherHumana Press Inc.
Number of pages22
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

Publication series

NameMethods in Molecular Biology
ISSN (Print)1064-3745

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


  • Force measurement techniques
  • Micron-sized dielectric objects
  • Optical trap
  • Optical tweezers


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