Introduction to optical tweezers: Background, system designs, and commercial solutions

Joost van Mameren, Gijs J.L. Wuite*, Iddo Heller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book / Report / Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


Optical tweezers are a means to manipulate objects with light. With the technique, microscopically small objects can be held and steered, while forces on the trapped objects can be accurately measured and exerted. Optical tweezers can typically obtain a nanometer spatial resolution, a picoNewton force resolution, and a millisecond time resolution, which makes them excellently suited to study biological processes from the single-cell down to the single-molecule level. In this chapter, we will provide an introduction on the use of optical tweezers in single-molecule approaches. We will introduce the basic principles and methodology involved in optical trapping, force calibration, and force measurements. Next we describe the components of an optical tweezers setup and their experimental relevance in single-molecule approaches. Finally, we provide a concise overview of commercial optical tweezers systems. Commercial systems are becoming increasingly available and provide access to single-molecule optical tweezers experiments without the need for a thorough background in physics.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSingle Molecule Analysis
Subtitle of host publicationMethods and Protocols
EditorsErwin J. G. Peterman
PublisherHumana Press Inc
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781493972715
ISBN (Print) 9781493972708, 9781493984374
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Publication series

NameMethods in Molecular Biology
ISSN (Print)1064-3745


  • Commercial optical tweezers
  • DNA–protein interactions
  • Force spectroscopy
  • Instrument design
  • Molecular motors
  • Optical trap
  • Optical tweezers
  • Radiation pressure
  • Single molecule
  • Trap stiffness calibration


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