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Macroscopic direct observation of optical spin-dependent lateral forces and left-handed torques


Observing and taming the effects arising from non-trivial light–matter interaction has always triggered scientists to better understand nature and develop photonic technologies. However, despite tremendous conceptual advances1,2, so far there have been only a few experimental proposals to reveal unusual optomechanical manifestations that are hardly seen in everyday life, such as negative radiation pressure3,4, transverse forces5,6 or left-handed torques7. Here, we report naked-eye identification of spin-dependent lateral displacements of centimetre-sized objects endowed with structured birefringence. Left-handed macroscopic rotational motion is also reported. The unveiled effects ultimately rely on spin–orbit optical interactions and are driven by lateral force fields that are five orders of magnitude larger than those reported previously, as a result of the proposed design. By highlighting the spin–orbit optomechanics of anisotropic and inhomogeneous media, these results allow structured light–matter interaction to move from a scientific curiosity to a new asset for the optical manipulation toolbox.

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Fig. 1: Spin-dependent lateral optical forces from spin–orbit scattering by a one-dimensional geometric phase optical element.
Fig. 2: Macroscopic direct observation of spin-dependent lateral optical forces.
Fig. 3: Principle of right- and left-handed optical radiation torques.
Fig. 4: Macroscopic direct observation of the angular analogue of lateral optical forces.
Fig. 5: Quantitative analysis of right- and left-handed optical radiation torque.


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This study received financial support from CONACYT Mexico.

Author information




H.M. realized the experimental set-up, conducted the experiments and analysed data. E.B. conceived the experiment, analysed data and supervised the project. E.B. wrote the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Etienne Brasselet.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Video 1

Macroscopic naked-eye observation of optical lateral force.

Supplementary Video 2

Macroscopic naked-eye observation of optical right-/left-handed torque.

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Magallanes, H., Brasselet, E. Macroscopic direct observation of optical spin-dependent lateral forces and left-handed torques. Nature Photon 12, 461–464 (2018).

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