Introduction to Optical Tweezers.
Thirty years after their invention by Arthur Ashkin and colleagues at Bell Labs in 1986 , optical tweezers (or traps) have become a versatile tool to address numerous biological problems. Put simply, an optical trap is a highly focused laser beam that is capable of holding and applying forces to micron-sized dielectric objects. However, their development over the last few decades has converted these tools from boutique instruments into highly versatile instruments of molecular biophysics. This introductory chapter intends to give a brief overview of the field, highlight some important scientific achievements, and demonstrate why optical traps have become a powerful tool in the biological sciences. We introduce a typical optical setup, describe the basic theoretical concepts of how trapping forces arise, and present the quantitative position and force measurement techniques that are most widely used today.