Method and apparatus for sorting particles, such as biological particles. A first laser defines an optical path having an intensity gradient which is effective to propel the particles along the path but which is sufficiently weak that the particles are not trapped in an axial direction. A probe laser beam interrogates the particles to identify predetermined phenotypical characteristics of the particles. A second laser beam intersects the driving first laser beam, wherein the second laser beam is activated by an output signal indicative of a predetermined characteristic. The second laser beam is switchable between a first intensity and a second intensity, where the first intensity is effective to displace selected particles from the driving laser beam and the second intensity is effective to propel selected particles along the deflection laser beam. The selected particles may then be propelled by the deflection beam to a location effective for further analysis.