White Light Takes Hold in Biology


World-first studies are underway at the University of St Andrews, exploring how a novel 'white light' laser could penetrate skin tissue more effectively than current laser surgery methods. School of Physics and Astronomy researchers have been awarded £150,000 from the EPSRC to use white light patterns to enhance current medical and biological applications.

Professor Kishan Dholakia, who is heading up the project said, "Normally lasers emit one specific colour - think of a red or green laser pointer, or the red laser that forms supermarket scanners. White light, on the other hand, consists of all the colours we know. If we pass it through a prism, we get all the colours of the rainbow.

"With white light, we can only see interference in specific instances and it's therefore much more accurate. Therefore, its potential use in medical and biological applications is staggering and a good example of how Scotland is leading the way in generate real results from cutting-edge laser research".

Professor Dholakia's team started out by studying how 'optical tweezers' (pairs of light beams) could be used to rotate chromosomes. These tweezers could manipulate one biological cell or chromosome at a time. However, his real breakthrough came by developing complex patterns of light that can sort, separate or transform many molecules or cells at once - even separating red and white blood cells.

"Because light is such a versatile tool, it should one day be possible to separate out cancerous cells from healthy ones. Drugs too could be inserted using this sort of cellular microsurgery", he added.

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