Tying the knot with computer-generated holograms: Winding optical path moves matter: Knotted traps are made by imprinting a computer-generated hologram on the wavefronts of an otherwise ordinary beam of light. NYU undergraduate student Elisabeth Shanblatt and NYU physicist David Grier, the authors of the Optics Express paper, use a "liquid-crystal spatial light modulator" to project their holograms. This is essentially the first cousin of a conventional LCD television screen. The spatial light modulator imprints a calculated pattern of phase shifts onto the light. When the modified beam is brought to a focus with a high-power lens, the region of maximum intensity takes the form of a 3-D curve. This curve can cross over and through itself to trace out a knot. Moreover, the same hologram can redirect the light's radiation pressure to have a component along the curve, so that the total optical force "threads the knot."
When Shanblatt and Grier began this investigation, they thought that creating knots would be a compelling and aesthetically pleasing demonstration of their method's power. Once the knots actually worked, they realized that there are very few—if any—other practical ways to create knotted force fields. Previously reported knotted vortex fields have intensity minima along the knot, rather than the intensity maxima, or "bright knots" that can be created using the computer-generated holograms.