Optically directed molecular transport and 3D isoelectric positioning of amphoteric biomolecules

Dean G. Hafeman, James B. Harkins IV, Charles E. Witkowski, Nathan S. Lewis, Robert J. Warmack, Gilbert M. Brown, Thomas Thundat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


We demonstrate the formation of charged molecular packets and their transport within optically created electrical force-field traps in a pH-buffered electrolyte. We call this process photoelectrophoretic localization and transport (PELT). The electrolyte is in contact with a photoconductive semiconductor electrode and a counterelectrode that are connected through an external circuit. A light beam directed to coordinates on the photoconductive electrode surface produces a photocurrent within the circuit and electrolyte. Within the electrolyte, the photocurrent creates localized force-field traps centered at the illuminated coordinates. Charged molecules, including polypeptides and proteins, electrophoretically accumulate into the traps and subsequently can be transported in the electrolyte by moving the traps over the photoconductive electrode in response to movement of the light beam. The molecules in a single trap can be divided into aliquots, and the aliquots can be directed along multiple routes simultaneously by using multiple light beams. This photoelectrophoretic transport of charged molecules by PELT resembles the electrostatic transport of electrons within force-field wells of solid-state charge-coupled devices. The molecules, however, travel in a liquid electrolyte rather than a solid. Furthermore, we have used PELT to position amphoteric biomolecules in three dimensions. A 3D pH gradient was created in an electrolyte medium by controlling the illumination position on a photoconductive anode where protons were generated electrolytically. Photoelectrophoretic transport of amphoteric molecules through the pH gradient resulted in accumulation of the molecules at their apparent 3D isoelectric coordinates in the medium.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6436-6441
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - Apr 25 2006


  • Electrophoresis
  • Light
  • Mass spectrometry
  • Protein transport proteomics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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