Self-stabilizing photonic levitation and propulsion of nanostructured macroscopic objects

Ognjen Ilic, Harry A. Atwater

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Light is a powerful tool to manipulate matter, but existing approaches often necessitate focused, high-intensity light that limits the manipulated object’s shape, material and size. Here, we report that self-stabilizing optical manipulation of macroscopic—millimetre-, centimetre- and even metre-scale—objects could be achieved by controlling the anisotropy of light scattering along the object’s surface. In a scalable design that features silicon resonators on silica substrate, we identify nanophotonic structures that can self-stabilize when rotated and/or translated relative to the optical axis. Nanoscale control of scattering across a large area creates restoring behaviour by engineering the scattered phase, without needing to focus incident light or excessively constrain the shape, size or material composition of the object. Our findings may lead to platforms for manipulating macroscopic objects, with applications ranging from contactless wafer-scale fabrication and assembly, to trajectory control for ultra-light spacecraft and even laser-propelled light sails for space exploration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)289-295
Number of pages7
JournalNature Photonics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank colleagues from the Breakthrough Starshot Lightsail committee for discussions, and acknowledge financial support from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research under grant number FA9550-16-1-0019. The authors also acknowledge discussions with A. Davoyan, O. Miller, Z. Manchester, M. Kelzenberg, I. Kaminer, C. Went, W. Whitney, M. Sherrott, J. Wong, D. Jariwala, P. Jha and H. Akbari.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.


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