PerspectiveApplied Physics

Structured Light Meets Structured Matter

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Science  31 Aug 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6098, pp. 1054-1055
DOI: 10.1126/science.1226204

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Summary

Metamaterials and singular optics are two fascinating branches of modern optics that until recently were rapidly developing in parallel yet independently. The former considers “simple” linearly or circularly polarized light or Gaussian beam propagation in “complex” materials with properties not found in nature. However, light can be a more complex phenomenon; in addition to conventional polarization states (spin), light beams can be radially or azimuthally polarized and carry orbital angular momentum (OAM). Structured light beams, containing phase or polarization singularities, enable properties and applications such as diffraction-free and self-healing propagation, single-molecule spectroscopy, nanoscale focusing, and even particle acceleration. A fascinating example of a beam carrying OAM is the optical vortex—a donut-shaped beam with a helical phase front (see the figure, panel A) (13).