Concept

Orbital angular momentum of light

Résumé
The orbital angular momentum of light (OAM) is the component of angular momentum of a light beam that is dependent on the field spatial distribution, and not on the polarization. It can be further split into an internal and an external OAM. The internal OAM is an origin-independent angular momentum of a light beam that can be associated with a helical or twisted wavefront. The external OAM is the origin-dependent angular momentum that can be obtained as cross product of the light beam position (center of the beam) and its total linear momentum. A beam of light carries a linear momentum , and hence it can be also attributed an external angular momentum . This external angular momentum depends on the choice of the origin of the coordinate system. If one chooses the origin at the beam axis and the beam is cylindrically symmetric (at least in its momentum distribution), the external angular momentum will vanish. The external angular momentum is a form of OAM, because it is unrelated to polarization and depends on the spatial distribution of the optical field (E). A more interesting example of OAM is the internal OAM appearing when a paraxial light beam is in a so-called "helical mode". Helical modes of the electromagnetic field are characterized by a wavefront that is shaped as a helix, with an optical vortex in the center, at the beam axis (see figure). If the phase varies around the axis of such a wave, it carries orbital angular momentum. In the figure to the right, the first column shows the beam wavefront shape. The second column is the optical phase distribution in a beam cross-section, shown in false colors. The third column is the light intensity distribution in a beam cross-section (with a dark vortex core at the center). The helical modes are characterized by an integer number , positive or negative. If , the mode is not helical and the wavefronts are multiple disconnected surfaces, for example, a sequence of parallel planes (from which the name "plane wave").
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