Light-driven nanoscale plasmonic motors

Nat Nanotechnol. 2010 Aug;5(8):570-3. doi: 10.1038/nnano.2010.128. Epub 2010 Jul 4.


When Sir William Crookes developed a four-vaned radiometer, also known as the light-mill, in 1873, it was believed that this device confirmed the existence of linear momentum carried by photons, as predicted by Maxwell's equations. Although Reynolds later proved that the torque on the radiometer was caused by thermal transpiration, researchers continued to search for ways to take advantage of the momentum of photons and to use it for generating rotational forces. The ability to provide rotational force at the nanoscale could open up a range of applications in physics, biology and chemistry, including DNA unfolding and sequencing and nanoelectromechanical systems. Here, we demonstrate a nanoscale plasmonic structure that can, when illuminated with linearly polarized light, generate a rotational force that is capable of rotating a silica microdisk that is 4,000 times larger in volume. Furthermore, we can control the rotation velocity and direction by varying the wavelength of the incident light to excite different plasmonic modes.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Crystallization / methods
  • Energy Transfer / radiation effects
  • Equipment Design
  • Equipment Failure Analysis
  • Gold / chemistry*
  • Gold / radiation effects
  • Light
  • Materials Testing
  • Molecular Conformation / radiation effects
  • Motion
  • Nanostructures / chemistry*
  • Nanostructures / radiation effects
  • Nanostructures / ultrastructure*
  • Nanotechnology / instrumentation*
  • Particle Size
  • Photons
  • Surface Plasmon Resonance / instrumentation*


  • Gold