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Atomic Tweezers

April 18, 2018

Optical tweezers let scientists combine single atoms into molecules.



Manipulating atoms. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Optical tweezing is a technology that uses lasers to cool individual atoms down so much that they are almost motionless. Scientists can then use the lasers like tweezers, holding and manipulating the atoms.  In the journal Science, Harvard physicist Kang-Kuen Ni and her colleagues report that for the first time, they were able to grab two atoms and push them together to make a molecule.

KANG-KUEN NI (Harvard University):

We want to build molecules in a very controlled way, which allows better understanding of their properties, interactions and reactions.


She says it’s difficult to study atomic reactions when they happen billions of atoms at a time; this new technology allows looking at them in isolation. Kang-Kuen says the work has already revealed properties never before seen and will also have applications in the creation of new precision sensors and clocks. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon