Brownian ratchets are of fundamental interest in fields from statistical physics to molecular motors. The realization of Brownian ratchets in engineered systems opens up the potential to harness thermal energy for directed motion, with applications in transport and sorting of nanoparticles. Implementations based on optical traps provide a high degree of tunability along with precise spatiotemporal control. Near-field optical methods provide particular flexibility and ease of on-chip integration with other microfluidic components. Here, we demonstrate the first all-optical, near-field Brownian ratchet. Our approach uses an asymmetrically patterned photonic crystal and yields an ultra-stable trap stiffness of 253.6 pN/nm-W, 100x greater than conventional optical tweezers. By modulating the laser power, optical ratcheting with transport speed of ~1 micron/s can be achieved, allowing a variety of dynamical lab-on-a-chip applications. The resulting transport speed matches well with the theoretical prediction.
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