Electromagnetic stress at the boundary: Photon pressure or tension?

Shubo Wang, Tsz Fai Jack NG, Meng Xiao, Che Ting Chan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


It is well known that incident photons carrying momentum hk exert a positive photon pressure. But if light is impinging from a negative refractive medium in which hk is directed toward the source of radiation, should light exert a photon "tension" instead of a photon pressure? Using an ab initio method that takes the underlying microstructure of a material into account, we find that when an electromagnetic wave propagates from one material into another, the electromagnetic stress at the boundary is, in fact, indeterminate if only the macroscopic parameters are specified. Light can either pull or push the boundary, depending not only on the macroscopic parameters but also on the microscopic lattice structure of the polarizable units that constitute the medium. Within the context of an effectivemedium approach, the lattice effect is attributed to electrostriction and magnetostriction, which can be accounted for by the Helmholtz stress tensor if we use the macroscopic fields to calculate the boundary optical stress.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1501485
JournalScience advances
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2016

Scopus Subject Areas

  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'Electromagnetic stress at the boundary: Photon pressure or tension?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this