The Light touch…

Research Policy Office
Tuesday 26 May 2015
A red blood cell, 1/10 the width of a human hair held with gently with laser light

Optical tweezers, miniscule forces that light exerts on micron-size particles, developed by researchers in the School of Physics and Astronomy, have empowered scientists to perform important studies on single molecules, cells and colloids without inflicting damage. The technique of optical tweezing is difficult and multifaceted, involving lasers, microscopes, imaging systems, specialized software and complex opto-mechanical design. The St Andrews Optical Manipulation Group has developed a number of innovations in beam shaping and applications for the optical tweezing and sorting market. This has led to the development of a suite of products, particularly for the biomedical sector, based on the group’s technology, resulting in more than £1M worth of sales in over 10 countries for the licensing company. The systems are regularly used to study single cells and even single molecules to help understand the biological world.

The Seeing Light Through a New Light outreach program has currently reached approximately 25,000 people across the UK Scotland. The aim of the program is to enthuse and excite the public about light and its use in medical and biological applications. Interactive shows, lectures and workshops are delivered throughout Fife, Scotland and the UK to school, family and adult audiences to show how light is changing our life. If you would like to book/request an event or activity or would like more information about the project please contact Kishan Dholakia (

The research and outreach project are funded by a number of sources, including the Engineering and Physics Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), a Partnership for Public Engagement (PPE) Award, Cancer Research UK, the European Union Framework 7 programme and the Royal Society.

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