Science fiction is full of fanciful devices that allow light to interact forcefully with matter, from light sabers to photon-drive rockets. In recent years, science has begun to catch up; some results hint at interesting real-world interactions between light and matter at atomic scales, and researchers have produced devices such as optical tractor beams, tweezers, and vortex beams.

Now, a team at MIT and elsewhere has pushed through another boundary in the quest for such exotic contraptions, by creating in simulations the first system in which particles — ranging from roughly molecule- to bacteria-sized — can be manipulated by a beam of ordinary light rather than the expensive specialized light sources required by other systems. The findings are reported today in the journal Science Advances, by MIT postdocs Ognjen Ilic PhD ’15, Ido Kaminer, and Bo Zhen; professor of physics Marin Soljačić; and two others.

Read more at MIT