Optical current, momentum and angular momentum in anisotropic materials exposed to detailed balance

  • Bart A. van TiggelenEmail author
Regular Article


This work investigates the theory behind a thought experiment that intends to measure momentum and angular momentum of matter exposed to “isotropic radiative noise’’. Radiative momentum has been a controversial subject for decades. The radiative momentum of isotropic noise is intuitively expected to be zero. We formulate the general features of the isotropic noise such as equipartition of energy and the vanishing of integrated Poynting vector. We demonstrate that in bi-anisotropic materials, a finite radiative momentum persists that performs work on the matter when its parameters change slowly. We find that Faraday rotation in the scattering of the radiative noise induces an angular momentum along the applied external magnetic field. Also, the Poynting vector is found to circulate around the matter, raising the question whether it really describes the energy flow. These effects are small and hard to measure in any real experiment. Yet, they are surprising predictions of the classical, macroscopic Maxwell equations, and make contact with the outcome of recent QED calculations done for the quantum vacuum.

Graphical abstract


Optical Phenomena and Photonics 


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Copyright information

© EDP Sciences / Società Italiana di Fisica / Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Univ. Grenoble Alpes, CNRS, LPMMCGrenobleFrance

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