Tiny Tractor Beams – Manipulating Microscopic Particles with Light

A ‘tractor beam’ – physically manipulating an object using light or some other ray – is a science-fiction that has recently become a science-reality. In this project, we will explore the development of ‘Optical Tweezers’ – a LASER-based method of controlling microscopic objects that was recently awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics (2018). Students will learn the theory behind the tweezers, and design and conduct their own experiment investigating aspects of optical tweezer operation. The program will provide students with an introduction to basic programming, pseudo-random simulations and statistical analysis, skills that are highly desirable in financial technology and big-data careers. 

Prerequisite Study

  • Physics 
  • 2 Unit Maths (but 3 Unit preferred) 

Areas of Student Interest

  • Laser Physics 
  • Random Systems / Statistics 
  • Computer Science 


Lead Academic: Peter Reece - Senior Lecturer, School of Physics 

Peter Reece

Peter Reece is a senior lecturer within the School of Physics, where he teaches Optics, Photonics and Electromagnetism. His experimental areas of expertise include Optical Trapping, Spectroscopy and Time-Resolved Spectroscopy, Fibre Optic Communications, Biosensing and Nano-Photonics. Peter is the director of the upper-year teaching laboratory, which teaches undergraduate students advanced experimental skills and conducts complex physics experiments. He frequently collaborates with the schools of chemistry and material science to design and characterise innovative biosensing and solar cell materials. 



Tom Dixon

PhD Student: Tom Dixon 

Tom is a 3rd Year PhD student with undergraduate degrees in Physics and Aerospace Engineering. His PhD research is on the nano-scale sensing potential of optical tweezers, as well as extensive investigations of statistical phenomena at the nanoscale. In his spare time, Tom is a researcher with the Physics Education Research for Evidence Centred Teaching (PERfECT) centre at UNSW, which focuses on improving teaching capabilities at UNSW. Tom teaches undergraduate experimental physics and computer programming at UNSW, and high school physics external to the university.