Spin and orbital angular momenta of electromagnetic waves in free space

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21 Scopus citations


We derive exact expressions, in the form of Fourier integrals over the (k,ω) domain, for the energy, momentum, and angular momentum of a light pulse propagating in free space. The angular momentum is seen to split naturally into two parts. The spin contribution of each plane-wave constituent of the pulse, representing the difference between its right- and left-circular polarization content, is aligned with the corresponding k-vector. In contrast, the orbital angular momentum associated with each plane-wave is orthogonal to its k-vector. In general, the orbital angular momentum content of the wavepacket is the sum of an intrinsic part, due, for example, to phase vorticity, and an extrinsic part, rCM × p, produced by the linear motion of the center-of-mass rCM of the light pulse in the direction of its linear momentum p.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number033838
JournalPhysical Review A - Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 20 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics


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