Video: ‘Optical Tweezers’ App Lets Users Manipulate Microscopic Particles With an iPad

Just in time to take advantage of the latest round of iPad hysteria, optics researchers at the Universities of Glasgow and Bristol are launching a novel new iPad app. But this new application doesn’t let you manipulate your bank account, your current scrabble match, or your media collection. It lets you manipulate microscopic particles.

Using a simple, intuitive iPad touchscreen interface, the new app links to an optical tweezers system that uses finely tuned lasers to manipulate tiny particles. Most optical tweezers rely on more cumbersome user interfaces, requiring a joystick or mouse to move particles. The touch-based interface relies on commands users already know innately, like pinching the screen or tilting the entire device to move particles around using spatial intuition.

Such a system should make the iPad a handy tool in molecular biology labs, where optical tweezers are an important tool. Moreover, while most people may have never operated optical tweezers, most have used a touchscreen interface like the iPad’s, lowering the technological barrier to entry in the lab. But perhaps the biggest selling point of this new app: it makes molecular biology look like fun.