Optical sorting was demonstrated by selective trapping of a set of microspheres (having specific size or composition) from a flowing mixture and guiding these in the desired direction by a moving array of optical traps. The approach exploits the fact that whereas the fluid drag force varies linearly with particle size, the optical gradient force has a more complex dependence on the particle size and also on its optical properties. Therefore, the ratio of these two forces is unique for different types of flowing particles. Selective trapping of a particular type of particles can thus be achieved by ensuring that the ratio between fluid drag and optical gradient force on these is below unity whereas for others it exceeds unity. Thereafter, the trapped particles can be sorted using a motion of the trapping sites towards the output. Because in this method the trapping force seen by the selected fraction of particles can be suitably higher than the fluid drag force, the particles can be captured and sorted from a fast fluid flow (about ). Therefore, even when using a dilute particle suspension, where the colloidal trafficking issues are naturally minimized, due to high flow rate a good throughput (about ) can be obtained. Experiments were performed to demonstrate sorting between silica spheres of different sizes (2, 3, and 5 μm) and between 3 μm size silica and polystyrene spheres.
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