Holographic plasmon-enhanced thermophoretic tweezers for low-power versatile manipulations of biological cells and nanoparticles

Physical Sciences : Mechanical

Available for licensing


  • Yuebing Zheng, Ph.D. , Mech Engineering
  • Linhan Lin, Ph.D. , Texas Materials Institute
  • Xiaolei Peng , Texas Materials Institute

Background/unmet need

Trapping and manipulation of biological cells using optical methods provide tremendous opportunities in the lab-on-a-chip devices for many biological science applications such as cell communication and signaling, drug screening, and biomolecule sensing. However, the current techniques have shown their intrinsic limitations.

Hydrodynamic patterning can only work on defined patterns and rely on biomolecules that can change the cells′ native states. Optical tweezers, which offer high-resolution and three-dimensional (3D) trapping of single particles, are limited by their tight focusing requirement and high-power manipulation. The newly developed optoelectronic tweezers have special requirements on the solvent and the photoresponsive substrates. Plasmonic tweezers lack the capability to manipulate the particles/cells dynamically in versatile behavior.

For comparison, our HPTT solves the current challenges and meets the requirements for noninvasive and versatile trapping and manipulations of live cells and biomolecules with low power requirements.

Invention Description

Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin exploit the integration of plasmon-enhanced optothermal effect on the quasi-continuous gold nano-island substrates, thermophoretic trapping, and optical imaging system to trap and manipulate polymer particles, live cells, and biomolecules in arbitrary behavior. Through direct optical imaging control, versatile manipulation functions like parallel trapping, inter-particle interactions, and particle rotations are enabled on the plasmonic landscapes, which are excited by the holographically reconstructed light patterns on the substrate. With the low-power operation, arbitrary manipulation, and applicability to various types of biological cells and molecules, HPTTs will find a wide range of applications in nanomedcine, diagnostics, and pharmaceutics.


    Capable of trapping and manipulation of biological cells or molecules in a parallel and dynamic way for fundamental studies and clinical practices


  • Low cost for substrates
  • Scalable to commercialization
  • Non-contact, arbitrary manipulation
  • Applicable to various types of biological and chemical particles
  • Low-power and safe operation
  • Simple control for complicated operations

Market potential/applications

Companies that have business or products in medical devices and pharmaceutics

Development Stage

Lab/bench prototype

IP Status

  • 1 U.S. patent application filed

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