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Nanoscale Light Mill Spins a Motor with a Beam of Light.


Thanks to a breakthrough by UC Berkeley and the DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, we can now make light do very small things as well. Researchers there have created the first nano-sized light mill motor that can be manipulated in both speed and direction by tuning the frequency of the light waves that serve as its power source.

The plasmonic motor is only 100 nanometers in size, but given the right kind of power in the form of a linearly polarized light beam, it can produce enough torque to turn a silica disk 4,000 times larger than the motor itself. This type of light-driven motor isn’t new, but the kind of power derived from a motor this small is unheard of up to this point. Previous attempts at plasmonic motors required the devices to be at least many micrometers in size, and even then they produced far less torque per unit volume.

Such tiny, controllable light-powered motors could have myriad biological applications, not least of which is manipulating DNA in vivo, using the motor to unwind and rewind a double helix. They could also lead to improved nanoelectromechanical systems and better solar harvesting devices.

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