An Optical Conveyor for Molecules
mediaposted on 09.12.2009, 00:00 by Franz M. Weinert, Dieter Braun
Trapping single ions under vacuum allows for precise spectroscopy in atomic physics. The confinement of biological molecules in bulk water is hindered by the lack of comparably strong forces. Molecules have been immobilized to surfaces, however often with detrimental effects on their function. Here, we optically trap molecules by creating the microscale analogue of a conveyor belt: a bidirectional flow is combined with a perpendicular thermophoretic molecule drift. Arranged in a toroidal geometry, the conveyor accumulates a hundredfold excess of 5-base DNA within seconds. The concentrations of the trapped DNA scale exponentially with length, reaching trapping potential depths of 14 kT for 50 bases. The mechanism does not require microfluidics, electrodes, or surface modifications. As a result, the trap can be dynamically relocated. The optical conveyor can be used to enhance diffusion-limited surface reactions, redirect cellular signaling, observe individual biomolecules over a prolonged time, or approach single-molecule chemistry in bulk water.