Helmholtz Natural Modes: The universal and discrete spatial fabric of electromagnetic wavefields

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The interaction of electromagnetic waves with matter is at the foundation of the way we perceive and explore the world around us. In fact, when a field interacts with an object, signatures on the object's geometry and physical properties are recorded in the resulting scattered field and are transported away from the object, where they can eventually be detected and processed. An optical field can transport information through its spectral content, its polarization state, and its spatial distribution. Generally speaking, the field's spatial structure is typically subjected to changes under free-space propagation and any information therein encoded gets reshuffled by the propagation process. We must ascribe to this fundamental reason the fact that spectroscopy was known to the ancient civilizations already, and founded as modern science in the middle of seventeenth century, while to date we do not have an established scientific of field of 'spatial spectroscopy' yet. In this work we tackle this issue and we show how any field, whose evolution is dictated by Helmholtz equation, contains a universal and invariant spatial structure. When expressed in the framework of this spatial fabric, the spatial information content carried by any field reveals its invariant nature. This opens the way to novel paradigms in optical digital communications, inverse scattering, materials inspection, nanometrology and quantum optics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number013021
Number of pages9
JournalNew Journal of Physics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017


  • free-space optical communications
  • invariant optical fields
  • propagation
  • radial and azimuthal modes
  • spatial spectroscopy

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