(photo credit: Bloomberg)
Star Trek fans will remember “tractor beams” that allowed the starship
Enterprise to trap and move objects. Now Tel Aviv University is turning this
science fiction into science fact on a nano scale by building special laser
“tweezers” for medicine, communications and harvesting energy.
tool, called Holographic Optical Tweezers (HOTs), use holographic technology to
manipulate simultaneously up to 300 nanoparticles such as beads of glass or
polymer that are too small and delicate to be handled with traditional
The technology, also known as “optical tweezers,”
could form the basis for tomorrow’s ultrafast, light-powered
devices and quantum computers, says Dr. Yael Roichman of TAU’s school of
chemistry. She’s using these tweezers to build nano structures that
beams of light, aiding in the development of anything from optical
to lightfuelled computer technology, HOTs are a new family of optical
use a strongly-focused light beam to trap, manipulate and transform
amounts of matter. First proposed as a scientific theory in 1986 and
by a University of Chicago team in 1997, holographic optical tweezers
praised as indispensable for researching cutting-edge ideas in physics,
chemistry and biology.
Roichman and her team of researchers are currently
pioneering the use of optical tweezers to create the next generation of
devices. Made out of carefully arranged particles of materials such as
oxide and titanium oxide, these devices have the ability to insulate
allowing less energy to be lost in transmission. “Our invention could
transmission speed and save energy, which is important for long-life
in computers, for instance,” says Roichman.
Photons are already used in
optical fibers that bring us every day services such as cable TV. But
says this technology can be taken much further. In her lab, she is
previous study of photonic crystals, which control and harness light, by
manipulating a variety of particles to create 3D heterogeneous
ability to insulate light in a novel way, preserving its potential
central to this goal.
No known material can resist the flow of light, as
its energy is either absorbed by, reflected off or passed through
But Roichman has devised a new layering technique using
special crystals – central to the creation of photonic devices – that
arranged to create a path along which light can travel. If done
says, the light is trapped along the path. She is hopeful that the
build these devices will transform communications, telescopic
even medical technology, making them more efficient and powerful.
medical project would track the effectiveness of antibiotics. She says
improvements to optical microscopy will, for the first time, enable
to look at the internal processes within bacteria and see how different
antibiotics attack them. More than that, her optical tweezers can
bacteria to be studied, handling them without killing them.
NEUROSCIENTIST EXCELS A researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science
Rehovot has just shared the Excellent Paper in Neuroscience award for
scientists, along with a colleague from Finland.
The award ceremony, in
which each received 3,000 euros, took place during the Seventh Forum of
Neuroscience Societies (FENS) in Amsterdam. ERA-Net NEURON is an
the European Commission aimed at advancing transnational European
the field of disease-related neuroscience.
Dr. Asya Rolls received the
award on her publication in PLoS
(2008) for elucidating the role of
scar tissue formation in spinal cord repair after injury. It has been
for quite some time that lack of nerve regeneration in the central
system is due to formation of harmful scar tissue. Rolls addressed the
of why should the body invest so much energy in scar formation after
spinal cord injury (SCI) only to inhibit spinal cord repair. She showed
initial formation of the scar, and in particular a protein called CSPG,
of an “SOS” response crucial for recovery. In fact, inhibiting the
CSPG at the early stages of spinal cord injury actually harms the
process. On the other hand, CSPG inhibition during the later subacute
improves functional recovery and can benefit regeneration. This study
identified an endogenous repair mechanism of the body and may have
implications for the treatment of SCI.
The other recipient was Dr. Heidi
Nousiainen from the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare.
Nousiainen received her award on her publication in Nature Genetics
describing and identifying the gene underlying two fatal nervous system
(LCCS1 and LAAHD) that are characterized by marked atrophy of spinal
motoneurons and fetal immobility, and who are lethal already during
development or shortly after birth. She discovered that the disease
gene, adding a new and important member to the increasing number of RNA
processing molecules linked to neurodegenerative diseases.