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Orbital Motion From Optical Spin: The Extraordinary Momentum Of Circularly Polarized Light Beams

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posted on 2023-11-30, 05:56 authored by V. Svak, O. Brobohaty, M. Siler, P. Jakl, J. Kanka, P. Zemanek, S. H. Simpson
We provide a vivid demonstration of the mechanical effect of transverse spin momentum in an optical beam in free space. This component of the Poynting momentum was previously thought to be virtual, and unmeasurable. Here, its effect is revealed in the inertial motion of a probe particle in a circularly polarized Gaussian trap, in vacuum. Transverse spin forces combine with thermal fluctuations to induce a striking range of non-equilibrium phenomena. With increasing beam power we observe (i) growing departures from energy equipartition, (ii) the formation of coherent, thermally excited orbits and, ultimately, (iii) the ejection of the particle from the trap. Our results complement and corroborate recent measurements of spin momentum in evanescent waves, and extend them to a new geometry, in free space. In doing so, we exhibit fundamental, generic features of the mechanical interaction of circularly polarized light with matter. The work also shows how observations of the under-damped motion of probe particles can provide detailed information about the nature and morphology of momentum flows in arbitrarily structured light fields as well as providing a test bed for elementary non-equilibrium statistical mechanics.

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