Applying physics to biology: optical tweezers and single-molecule biophysics

Steven Block's team at the Stanford Photonics Research Center (SPRC) is pioneering a new area of biology known as single-molecule biophysics. Underpinning that endeavour are laser-based optical tweezers (also known as optical traps) used to capture, measure and manipulate proteins and nucleic acids one molecule at a time.

Bright stuff: LCLS ready to shine

Stanford's Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) is an X-ray free-electron laser that produces X-ray pulses more than a billion times brighter than the next brightest synchrotron sources. As atomic physicist Phil Bucksbaum explains, LCLS is also "the world's first laser able to interrogate atoms and molecules simultaneously on their natural time scale and length scale".

Laser turns 50

To get your hands on a free digital copy of Physics World that marks the 50th anniversary of the invention of the laser, please use the following link:

More multimedia

Want to find out what's the next big thing in laser manufacturing, discover the latest in optical communications or get the low-down on medical lasers? Then sit back and enjoy the full programme of video briefings now showing on our sister website,

• Quick links

The next big thing in laser manufacturing (4m 45s)
Ultrafast fibre lasers. You heard it here first!

Optical communications: making the link (6m 40s)
Tom Hausken, lead analyst at US technology consultancy Strategies Unlimited, picks out the crucial differentiators for laser manufacturers working on next-gen optical devices.

Medical lasers: diagnose, treat, cure (5m 37s)
What can laser scientists and innovators do to ensure that today's ground-breaking research makes it out of the laboratory and into the hospital?

The first 50 years of the laser – and the next 50 (8m 15s)
Who uses lasers? What can we do with them? How have they changed physics? And what's in store for their future?

Space-based lasers: the final frontier? (3m 42s)
What can you do with a laser in space that you can't do on the ground?