Role of Radial Charges on the Angular Momentum of Electromagnetic Fields: Spin- 3/2 Light

O. El Gawhary, T. Van Mechelen, H. P. Urbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
52 Downloads (Pure)


Electromagnetic fields carry a linear and an angular momentum, the first being responsible for the existence of the radiation pressure and the second for the transfer of torque from electromagnetic radiation to matter. The angular momentum is considered to have two components, one due to the polarization state of the field, usually called spin angular momentum (SAM), and one due to the existence of topological azimuthal charges in the field phase profile, which leads to the orbital angular momentum (OAM). These two contributions to the total angular momentum of an electromagnetic field appear, however, to not be independent of each other, something which is described as spin-orbit coupling. Understanding the physics of this coupling has kept scientists busy for decades. Very recently it has been shown that electromagnetic fields necessarily carry also invariant radial charges that, as discussed in this Letter, play a key role in the angular momentum. Here we show that the total angular momentum consists in fact of three components: one component only dependent on the spin of the field, another dependent on the azimuthal charges carried by the field, and a third component dependent on the spin and the radial charges contained in the field. By properly controlling the number and coupling among these radial charges it is possible to design electromagnetic fields with a desired total angular momentum. Remarkably, we also discover fields with no orbital angular momentum and a spin angular momentum typical of spin-3/2 objects, irrespective of the fact that photons are spin-1 particles.

Original languageEnglish
Article number123202
Number of pages6
JournalPhysical Review Letters
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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