October 07, 2021

Microstuctured optical fiber tips for single cell analysis

Optical tweezers in dual-beam counter-propagating configuration
Optical tweezers in dual-beam counter-propagating configuration. The on-fiber printed optical system is based on diffractive Fresnel optics that can trap particles at the focal center of two opposing structures. Miniaturized optical tweezers have great potential in the field of life sciences and for applications such as single cell analysis. Image: A. Asadollahbaik, T. Pohl, 4th Physics Institute and Research Center SCoPE, University of Stuttgart

How can we hold and manipulate microscopically small objects such as biological molecules or even living cells? Within the last decades optical tweezers have become established tools in science to trap particles or analyze smallest forces and interactions between single molecules. Further development and miniaturization of optical tweezers can be achieved by integrating optical fibers and diffractive microoptics. In this context, researchers from the University Stuttgart used Two-Photon Polymerization (2PP) for the microfabrication of 2.5D Fresnel lenses and advanced stacked 3D lens systems on fibers.

In 2018, Arthur Ashkin was awarded the Noble price in physics for the optical tweezers and their applications to biological systems. Indeed, over the last decades this breakthrough technology has become an established tool not only in biology, but in many scientific fields where microscopic and submicroscopic particles need to be trapped, manipulated, or placed on a defined position. In addition, scientists use these optical traps to measure smallest molecular interactions and forces, such as the elasticity of DNA. The basic idea of optical tweezers is to trap particles with a different refractive index than the surrounding medium by the small attractive and repulsive forces of a light beam.

On-fiber printed optical tweezers

Optical tweezers usually require bulky and expensive setups, such as objectives with a high numerical aperture. Scientists at the University of Stuttgart have developed a highly efficient miniaturized optical tweezers by printing directly onto the end of a cleaved optical fiber using Two-Photon Polymerization (2PP). These on-fiber printed optical traps are arranged in a so called dual-beam, counter-propagating setup. This means that two fiber ends with attached optical traps are aligned directly opposite each other and a particle can be trapped where the two focal points of the counter-propagating laser sources meet. With the on-fiber printed optical tweezer, the researchers demonstrated a highly efficient particle trapping for 1 µm and 500 nm polystyrene beads in water.

2.5D Fresnel lenses and stacked 3D designs

The scientists designed and optimized three fiber-optic particle traps with a working distance of 50, 100 and 200 micrometers. Using a Nanoscribe Photonic Professional system, they printed these optical lenses directly on the cleaved ends of optical fibers. The main architecture of these 3D-printed optical devices consist of two parts. The first section expands the light beam guided in the optical fiber and is necessary for achieving the targeted working distance and the associated high numerical apertures. However, the key elements of the optical tweezers are finely tuned Fresnel lenses that efficiently focus the light to trap the particles at the precalculated positions. For practical reasons, the scientists chose to print these diffractive designs instead of conventional spherical lenses. On-fiber printed refractive lenses would result in designs with very challenging curvatures. The Fresnel lens design, on the other hand, can be easily adjusted to the desired working distance and high numerical apertures. The researchers printed three different diffractive lenses on the fiber end with a minimum lateral feature size of 1.67 µm at the outer edge of the design and a profile height of 3.88 µm.

For optical tweezers with high numerical apertures, the 2PP technology proves its true potential. A high numerical aperture could not be achieved with a single Fresnel lens on the fiber ends. Instead, the scientists printed two lenses on top of each other, separated by six pillars supporting the second lens. This would be impossible without true 3D printing. All the optical tweezers enable stable trapping of (sub)micrometer-sized polystyrene test beads at low laser power, which is particularly interesting for applications in biology, where high laser powers could damage the soft tissue of the organic sample.

Dynamic Precision Printing for optimized 3D Microfabrication

The optical tweezers in this fascinating work are printed using different printing strategies. Printing the beam expansion part requires less precision than the filigree microstructures of the optical Fresnel lenses. Therefore, the first section on the fiber can be printed with higher scan speeds and coarser slicing and hatching parameters. For the Fresnel lenses, on the other hand, the writing parameters are set to the highest resolution. Using the strategy of adjusting the print parameters to the functionality of the desired object, the scientists printed these high-precision optical tweezers in less than an hour. Incidentally, this strategy is also the core idea behind our Dynamic Precision Printing modes to guide users to a perfect balance of precision and speed by offering different printing modes.

Tomorrows applications thanks to Nanoscibe’s technology

The key element of the Stuttgart research team’s fascinating work is a microfabricated Fresnel lens printed directly onto the facet of an optical fiber. Therefore, 2PP-based microfabrication enables easy design iterations and modifications of these 2.5D lenses. In addition, the technology enables microfabrication of complex stacked 3D lens designs. In this context, Nanoscribe’s new Quantum X shape paves the way for similar and new innovations. The new system integrates the revolutionary technology of Two-Photon Grayscribe Lithography (2GL ®) for smooth 2.5D optical-grade elements, such as the described Fresnel lenses, and 3D capabilities for printing freeform microstructures with unprecedented precision. Stay tuned for the more exciting news to come.

Read the scientific publication here: Highly Efficient Dual-Fiber Optical Trapping with 3D Printed Diffractive Fresnel Lenses

The complete publication and further scientific publications on more than a thousand research projects from Nanoscribe customers and system users can be found in a powerful database with a keyword search in the premium resources section. Register for free to see for yourself the potential of Nanoscribe’s 3D Microfabrication technology for innovative applications and fundamental innovations in many areas, and to evaluate its suitability for your project.

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