Transfer of optical orbital angular momentum to a bound electron

Nat Commun. 2016 Oct 3;7:12998. doi: 10.1038/ncomms12998.


Photons can carry angular momentum, not only due to their spin, but also due to their spatial structure. This extra twist has been used, for example, to drive circular motion of microscopic particles in optical tweezers as well as to create vortices in quantum gases. Here we excite an atomic transition with a vortex laser beam and demonstrate the transfer of optical orbital angular momentum to the valence electron of a single trapped ion. We observe strongly modified selection rules showing that an atom can absorb two quanta of angular momentum from a single photon: one from the spin and another from the spatial structure of the beam. Furthermore, we show that parasitic ac-Stark shifts from off-resonant transitions are suppressed in the dark centre of vortex beams. These results show how light's spatial structure can determine the characteristics of light-matter interaction and pave the way for its application and observation in other systems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't