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J Opt Soc Am A Opt Image Sci Vis. 2009 Mar;26(3):625-38.

Optical angular momentum transfer by Laguerre-Gaussian beams.

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  • 1H. H. Wills Physics Laboratory, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK.


It is well known that Laguerre-Gaussian beams carry angular momentum and that this angular momentum has a mechanical effect when such beams are incident on particles whose refractive indices differ from those of the background medium. Under conditions of tight focusing, intensity gradients arise that are sufficiently large to trap micrometer-sized particles, permitting these mechanical effects to be observed directly. In particular, when the particles are spherical and absorbing, they rotate steadily at a rate that is directly proportional to the theoretical angular momentum flux of the incident beam. We note that this behavior is peculiar to absorbing spheres. For arbitrary, axially placed particles the induced torque for rotation angle zeta is shown to be Gammaz=Asin(2zeta+delta)+B, where A, B, and delta are constants that are determined by the mechanisms coupling optical and mechanical angular momentum. The resulting behavior need not be directly related to the total angular momentum in the beam but can, nonetheless, be understood in terms of an appropriate torque density. This observation is illustrated by calculations of the torque induced in optically and geometrically anisotropic particles using a T-matrix approach.

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