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

MacLeod, Alexander J. and Noble, Adam and Jaroszynski, Dino A. (2017) On the energy-momentum tensor of light in strong fields : an all optical view of the Abraham-Minkowski controversy. In: Relativistic Plasma Waves and Particle Beams as Coherent and Incoherent Radiation Sources II. Proceedings of SPIE . Society of Photo-optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE), Bellingham, Washington. ISBN 9781510609693

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Abstract

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.