Optically levitated nano-objects in vacuum are among the highest quality mechanical oscillators, and thus of great interest for force sensing, cavity quantum optomechanics, and nanothermodynamic studies. These precision applications require exquisite control. Here, we present full control over the rotational and translational dynamics of an optically levitated silicon nanorod. We trap its center-of-mass and align it along the linear polarization of the laser field. The rod can be set into rotation at a predefined frequency by exploiting the radiation pressure exerted by elliptically polarized light. The rotational motion of the rod dynamically modifies the optical potential, which allows tuning of the rotational frequency over hundreds of kilohertz. Through nanofabrication, we can tailor all of the trapping frequencies and the optical torque, achieving reproducible dynamics that are stable over months, and analytically predict the motion with great accuracy. This first demonstration of full ro-translational control of nanoparticles in vacuum opens up the fields of rotational optomechanics, rotational ground state cooling, and the study of rotational thermodynamics in the underdamped regime.
Publication: "Full rotational control of levitated silicon nanorods"; Stefan Kuhn, Alon Kosloff, Benjamin A. Stickler, Fernando Patolsky, Klaus Hornberger, Markus Arndt, and James Millen; Optica Vol. 4, Issue 3, pp. 356-360 (2017)