Arthur Eskin, 98, Des; Nobel laureate invented ‘tractor beam’

Arthur Eskin, a physicist who was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize, who died on SEMSAT, calling his invention optical tweezers, to harness the power of light to trap microscopic objects for microscopic study. . He was at his home at 21 in Ramson, NJ. 98.

His daughter Judith Herscu confirmed the death on Monday.

Optical tweezers – or optical traps, as they are more well known – use pressure from a highly focused laser beam to manipulate microscopic objects, from atoms to living organisms such as viruses and bacteria.

As the Nobel committee wrote, Drs. Eskin invented “optical tweezers that hold particles, atoms, molecules, and living cells with their laser beam fingers.”

Research for trapping biological materials proved to be practical in understanding the practical applications and behavior of basic building blocks of life, such as DNA, and other biological systems. Today, optical tweezers are widely manufactured and sold to researchers.

Dr. Ashkin’s “tweezer” is created by shining a laser – a beam of coherent monochromatic light – through a small magnifying lens. The lens forms a focal point for the laser, and, by a strange twist of nature, the particles are drawn near that center point and trapped there, unable to move up or down or backward or forward.

Steven M. Block, a professor of biology and applied physics at Stanford University, compared optical tweezers like the immobilization technique posted in “Star Trek” and “Star Wars”, calling them “the closest thing to a tramad beam” Humans have Ever produced. “

Dr. Ashkin’s discovery was serious.

In 1966, he was head of the laser research department at Bell Labs, a New Jersey laboratory founded by the Bell Telephone Company in 1925, when he went to a scientific conference in Phoenix. There, in a lecture, he heard two researchers Discuss some of the weirdness that he found while studying lasers, which were invented six years ago: he saw that the dust particles within the laser beam cared back and forth. He said that mild pressure may be the reason.

Dr. Ashkin made some calculations and concluded that this was not the cause – it was most likely thermal radiation. But his work showed a childhood interest in mild pressure.

Light pushes against everything, including people, because it contains small particles called photons. Pressure is negligible most of the time; People, for one, feel nothing. But Dr. Eskin thought that if the objects were small enough, a laser could be used to push them around.

He experimented with a small transparent glass sphere, through which laser photons could pass, and found that he was indeed capable of pushing it around. But unexpectedly the sphere moved towards the center of the beam, where it got stuck.

The reason had to do with one of the immutable laws of physics: the conservation of momentum. As photons pass through the sphere and are deflected by it, the sphere moves in the opposite direction to the deflected photon. As the beam had more photons in the center, the sphere was moved toward the center.

Dr. Ashkin realized that by using two beams pointing at each other, it would be possible to trap small objects and move them around. A historical article about his discovery was published in the Physical Review Letters in 1970.

Dr. Ashkin continued to research the subject with his colleagues at Bell Labs and in 1980 showed how to use optical trap to measure electron charge.

Then, in 1986, he and several collaborators, particularly Steven Chu, obtained the first practical application of optical tweezers when he sent a laser through a lens to manipulate microscopic objects. Their results were published in another paper in Physical Review Letters. Dr. Chu began using tweezers to cool and trap atoms, a breakthrough for which he was awarded a third of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997.

Dr. Ashkin, it was clear that the Nobel committee did not recognize their founding work in awarding the award. But he had already started using tweezers for a different purpose: trapping living organisms and biological material.

Other scientists thought that this application would not work, as they explained in an interview with the Nobel Institute that they had given the award in 2018.

“He used light to heal wounds, and was considered fatal,” he said. “When I described capturing living things with light, people said, ‘Don’t exaggerate, Ashkin.”

Dr. The things Ashkin was able to implicate were the unicellular structure of the single-celled Peramicium and a small virus that attacked tobacco plants. Through its trapping method it is also being repeated that it became possible to observe DNA.

Dr. Eskin was bestowed with the 2018 Physics Award, shared with Gérard Mauro of France and Donna Strickland of Canada, who each received a quarter. In doing so, he turned 96, the oldest recipient of the then Nobel Prize. (The following year, John B. Goodenough received Nobel 97 in chemistry.)

Unable to attend the Nobel ceremony in Stockholm, Drs. Ashkin gave his Nobel Lecture from Nokia Bell Laboratories in New Jersey.

Arthur Eskin was born on 2, 1922 in Brooklyn, one of the four children of Isadore and Anna Eskin, of Ukrainian-Jewish heritage. His older brother, Julius, also became a physicist and was instrumental in the Manhattan Project, a covert effort to develop an atomic bomb during World War II.

After graduating from James Madison High School, Arthur entered Columbia University after Julius. He worked at the Columbia Radiation Laboratory on magnetrons, which produced microwaves and were precursors to lasers. Two other future Nobel laureates were working in the lab at the time.

Dr. Eskin graduated from Columbia in 1947 and studied atomic physics at Cornell, where he worked with Hans Bethe and Richard Feynman, both future Nobel Prize winners. He joined Bell Labs after obtaining his PhD. From Cornell in 1952 and worked there until his retirement in 1992. He headed the Lab’s Laser Science Department from 1963 to 1987.

In addition to optical tweezers, Drs. Eskin was credited with discovering the photorefractive effect that temporarily alters how materials, particularly crystals, scatter, or bend light. Practical uses of effects include creating temporary holograms. Scientists believe that this could give rise to more powerful computers that would use light instead of electricity to store data.

Dr. Eskin had 47 patents and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2013.

In addition to his daughter, Judith, his wife, Aline Ashkin, a former high school chemistry professor who has taught several children of Bell Labs employees; His sons, Daniel and Michael, an artist whose work has appeared at the biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; Five grandchildren; And two great-grandchildren.

Dr. from Bell Labs Ashkin’s retirement did not stop him from continuing his research. When he received word of his Nobel Prize, he was working on a project in his basement to improve solar energy collection. Asked if he was going to celebrate, he said: “I am writing a paper right now. I’m not about celebrating old stuff. “

Alex Traub contributed reporting.

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