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In March of this year, the 1992 paper on the orbital angular momentum of light by Les Allen, Marco Beijersbergen, Robert Spreeuw (UvA-IoP) and Han Woerdman was chosen as one of three "classic" papers by the journal Physical Review A. As a further accolade, the paper has now also been included in the journal's 50th Anniversary Milestone collection.

Spreeuw et al.
A figure from the paper by Allen et al., showing the torque that light could impart on cylindrical lenses.

The Milestone collection contains papers that have made important contributions to atomic, molecular, and optical physics and quantum information by announcing significant discoveries or by initiating new areas of research. Papers are being added on a bi-weekly basis until the end of the year, when the total collection will consist of 26 papers that have had a far-reaching impact on other subjects of the physical sciences.

Donut modes

In the 1992 paper, the authors address the question whether light can have so-called "orbital angular momentum". That is: if light is propagating with a spiralling wave front, can it make another object spin? By studying certain donut-shaped propagation modes that lasers can produce, they showed that this is indeed the case, and argued that such light can in principle twist a lens that it goes through - an effect which was indeed later observed in the laboratory. Over the past three decades, the effect first suggested by Allen, Beijersbergen, Spreeuw and Woerdman has found many applications and the paper has been cited over 4000 times.