Interferometry can completely redirect light, providing the potential for exceptionally strong and controllable optical forces. When a beamsplitter combines two fields, the output power is directed via the relative phase between the incident fields. Since the phase changes with beamsplitter displacement, the interference force can be used to stably trap; with displacements as small as (λ/4n) able to completely redirect the light. The resulting change in optical momentum causes an opposing optical force. However, optical forces are most useful for trapping and manipulating small scattering particles. Optical scattering is not generally thought to allow efficient interference; essentially, it appears that small particles cannot act as beamsplitters. As such, optical traps have relied upon much weaker deflection-based forces.
Here we show that efficient interference can be achieved by appropriately structuring the incident light. This relies on Mie scattering fringes to combine light which is incident from different incident angles. This results in a force, which we call the structured interference force, which offers order-of-magnitude higher trap stiffness over the usual Gaussian trap. We demonstrate structured interference force trapping (SIFT) of 10μm diameter silica spheres with a stiffness 20.1 times higher than is possible using Gaussian traps, while also increasing the measurement signal-to-noise ratio by two orders of magnitude. This is demonstrated using only phase control of the incident light, making the technique directly compatible with most existing holographic optical traps. These results are highly relevant to many applications, including cellular manipulation, fluid dynamics, micro-robotics, and tests of fundamental physics.