Two controversies in classical electromagnetism

Robert N C Pfeifer*, Timo A. Nieminen, Norman R. Heckenberg, Halina Rubinsztein-Dunlop

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contributionpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


This paper examines two controversies arising within classical electromagnetism which are relevant to the optical trapping and micromanipulation community. First is the Abraham-Minkowski controversy, a debate relating to the form of the electromagnetic energy-momentum tensor in dielectric materials, with implications for the momentum of a photon in dielectric media. A wide range of alternatives exist, and experiments are frequently proposed to attempt to discriminate between them. We explain the resolution of this controversy and show that regardless of the electromagnetic energy-momentum tensor chosen, when material disturbances are also taken into account the predicted behaviour will always be the same. The second controversy, known as the plane wave angular momentum paradox, relates to the distribution of angular momentum within an electromagnetic wave. The two competing formulations are reviewed, and an experiment is discussed which is capable of distinguishing between the two.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOptical Trapping and Optical Micromanipulation III
Place of PublicationWashington, DC
Number of pages10
ISBN (Print)0819464058, 9780819464057
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes
EventOptical Trapping and Optical Micromanipulation III - San Diego, CA, United States
Duration: 13 Aug 200617 Aug 2006


OtherOptical Trapping and Optical Micromanipulation III
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySan Diego, CA


  • Abraham-Minkowski controversy
  • Angular momentum
  • Electromagnetic momentum
  • Khrapko's paradox
  • Photon momentum


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