Arthur Ashkin (1922) is a retired scientist who worked at Bell Laboratories and Lucent Technologies. He started his work on manipulation of microparticles with laser light in the late 1960s which resulted in the invention of optical tweezers in 1986. He also pioneered the optical trapping process that eventually was used to manipulate atoms, molecules, and biological cells. The key phenomenon is the radiation pressure of light; this pressure can be dissected down into optical gradient and scattering forces. Ashkin has been considered by many as the father of the topical field of optical tweezers.
Arthur Ashkin was born in Brooklyn, New York (1922) and grew up there. He attended Columbia University and was also a technician for Columbia's Radiation Lab tasked with building magnetrons for U.S. military radar systems. Although he was drafted in his sophomore year during World War II, his status was changed to enlisted reserves, and he continued working in the Columbia University lab. During this period, by Ashkin's own account, three Nobel laureates were in attendance.
He finished his course work for his physics degree at Columbia and then attended Cornell University. He studied nuclear physics there. This was during the era of the Manhattan Project and Ashkin's brother, Julius Ashkin, was successfully part of it. This led to Arthur Ashkin's introduction to Hans Bethe, Richard Feynman and others who were at Cornell at the time.
He received his PhD at Cornell and then went to work for Bell Labs at the request and recommendation of Sidney Millman. Previously, Mr. Millman was Ashkin's supervisor at Columbia University. At Bell Labs from 1960 to 1961 Ashkin started working in the microwave field, and then switched to laser research. His research and published articles at that time pertained to nonlinear optics, optical fibers, parametric oscillators and parametric amplifiers. Also, at Bell Labs during the 1960s, he was the co-discoverer of the photorefractive effect in the piezoelectric crystal.