On the energy-momentum tensor of light in strong fields: an all optical view of the Abraham-Minkowski controversy

Alexander J. MacLeod, Adam Noble, Dino A. Jaroszynski

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution book

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The Abraham-Minkowski controversy is the debate surrounding the "correct" form of the energy-momentum tensor of light in a medium. Over a century of theoretical and experimental studies have consistently produced conflicting results, with no consensus being found on how best to describe the influence of a material on the propagation of light. It has been argued that the total energy-momentum tensor for each of the theories, which includes both wave and material components, are equal. The difficulty in separating the full energy-momentum tensor is generally attributed to the fact that one cannot obtain the energy-momentum tensor of the medium for real materials. Non-linear electrodynamics provides an opportunity to approach the debate from an all optical set up, where the role of the medium is replaced by the vacuum under the influence of a strong background field. We derive, from first principles, the general form of the energy-momentum tensor in such theories, and use our results to shed some light on this long standing issue.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRelativistic Plasma Waves and Particle Beams as Coherent and Incoherent Radiation Sources II
EditorsDino Jaroszynski
Place of PublicationBellingham, Washington
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2017
EventSPIE Optics + Optoelectronics - Clarion Congress Hote, Prague, Czech Republic
Duration: 24 Apr 201727 Apr 2017

Publication series

NameProceedings of SPIE
PublisherSociety of Photo-optical Instrumentation Engineers
ISSN (Print)0277-786X


ConferenceSPIE Optics + Optoelectronics
Country/TerritoryCzech Republic
Internet address


  • Abraham-Minkowski controversy
  • slow light experiments
  • non-linear vacuum electrodynamics
  • Euler-Heisenberg
  • Born-Infeld


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