In 1992, Les Allen and coworkers within Han Woerdman's group realized that light beams with an azimuthal phase dependence described by an additional exp(iâÎ¸) term, where â can take any integer value and Î¸ is the angular position within the beam, carry an orbital angular momentum. This orbital angular momentum is additional to the spin angular momentum associated with circular polarization. These azimuthally phased beams comprise â intertwined helical phase fronts, skewed with respect to the beam axis, meaning that at all positions within the beam cross section, the wavefront normal and associated momentum density has a well-defined azimuthal component. The insight of Allen and coworkers was that for all beams described in this way, when integrated over the beam cross section, the orbital angular momentum (OAM) is ââ per photon. Laguerre-Gaussian and high-order Bessel beams are both examples of mode families having these properties. A further feature of these beams is that the phase singularity on the beam axis precludes a nonzero on-axis intensity and therefore all such beams with â â 0 have an annular intensity cross section (see Fig. 4.1). The circulation of the optical momentum and energy around the singularity leads them also to be called optical vortices.
The further recognition that beams carrying defined amounts of OAM could be created within the laboratory means that over the last 15 years they have formed the basis of many investigations, ranging from the transfer of OAM to microscopic particles (in optical spanners or optical wrenches) to studies of the fundamental properties of light in both the classical and quantum regimes. However, although OAM is an immensely useful concept, one must emphasize that all its properties are simply those predicted by standard electromagnetic theory.
The purpose of this chapter is to consider how sets of helical laser modes carrying OAM can be used for information transfer.
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