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July 21, 2010

Silicon micro-ring resonator could help advance nanomanipulation

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Schematic illustration of particle revolving around silicon micro-ring resonator, propelled by optical forces.
To trap and hold tiny microparticles, engineers at Harvard have “put a ring on it,” using a silicon-based circular resonator to confine particles stably for up to several minutes.

The advance, published in the June 14 issue of Nano Letters, could one day lead to the ability to direct, deliver, and store nanoparticles and biomolecules on all-optical chips.

“We demonstrated the power of what we call resonant cavity trapping, where a particle is guided along a small waveguide and then pulled onto a micro-ring resonator,” explains Kenneth Crozier, an Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) who directed the research. “Once on the ring, optical forces prevent it from escaping, and cause it to revolve around it.”


Nano Letters - Optical Manipulation with Planar Silicon Microring Resonators

We demonstrate optically trapping of microparticles on silicon microring resonators. Once trapped on a microring, a particle can be confined in an optical potential with a depth of 25 kBT over the entire microring’s circumference. The particles are propelled around the microring at hundreds of micrometers per second, producing periodic revolutions at a few hertz. We anticipate that the increased force and highly accurate positioning obtainable with this system will lead to various nanomanipulation applications.


The process looks similar to what you see in liquid motion toys, where tiny beads of colored drops run along plastic tracks—but on much smaller scale and with different physical mechanisms. The rings have radii of a mere 5 to 10 micrometers and are built using electron beam lithography and reactive ion etching.

Specifically, laser light is focused into a waveguide. Optical forces cause a particle to be drawn down toward the waveguide, and pushed along it. When the particle approaches a ring fabricated close to the waveguide, it is pulled from the waveguide to the ring by optical forces. The particle then circulates around the ring, propelled by optical forces at velocities of several hundred micrometers-per-second.

While using planar ring resonators to trap particles is not new, Crozier and his colleagues offered a new and more thorough analysis of the technique. In particular, they showed that using the silicon ring results in optical force enhancement (5 to 8 times versus the straight waveguide).

“Excitingly, particle-tracking measurements with a high speed camera reveal that the large transverse forces stably localize the particle so that the standard deviation in its trajectory, compared to a circle, is as small as 50 nm,” says Crozier. “This represents a very tight localization over a comparatively large distance.”

The ultimate aim is to develop and demonstrate fully all-optical on chip manipulation that offers a way to guide, store, and deliver both biological and artificial particles.


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