Abstract: It has been possible to produce photon vortex beams — optical beams with spiralling wavefronts — for some time, and they have found widespread application as optical tweezers, in interferometry and in information transfer, for example. The production of vortex beams of electrons was demonstrated earlier this year (
) in a procedure involving the passage of electrons through a spiral stack of graphite thin films. The ability to generate such beams reproducibly in a conventional electron microscope would enable many new applications. Now Jo Verbeeck and colleagues have taken a step towards that goal. They describe a versatile holographic technique for generating these twisted electron beams, and demonstrate their potential use as probes of a material's magnetic properties. It was demonstrated recently that passing electrons through a spiral stack of graphite thin films generates an electron beam with orbital angular momentum — analogous to the spiralling wavefronts that can be introduced in photon beams and which have found widespread application. Here, a versatile holographic technique for generating these twisted electron beams is described. Moreover, a demonstration is provided of their potential use in probing a material's magnetic properties. Vortex beams (also known as beams with a phase singularity) consist of spiralling wavefronts that give rise to angular momentum around the propagation direction. Vortex photon beams are widely used in applications such as optical tweezers to manipulate micrometre-sized particles and in micro-motors to provide angular momentum1,2, improving channel capacity in optical3 and radio-wave4 information transfer, astrophysics5 and so on6. Very recently, an experimental realization of vortex beams formed of electrons was demonstrated7. Here we describe the creation of vortex electron beams, making use of a versatile holographic reconstruction technique in a transmission electron microscope. This technique is a reproducible method of creating vortex electron beams in a conventional electron microscope. We demonstrate how they may be used in electron energy-loss spectroscopy to detect the magnetic state of materials and describe their properties. Our results show that electron vortex beams hold promise for new applications, in particular for analysing and manipulating nanomaterials, and can be easily produced.
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