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Theory of radiative electron polarization in strong laser fields

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JournalPhysical Review A
DateAccepted/In press - 25 Jul 2018
DatePublished (current) - 20 Aug 2018
Issue number2
Number of pages19
Original languageEnglish


Radiative polarization of electrons and positrons through the Sokolov-Ternov effect is important for applications in high-energy physics. Radiative spin polarization is a manifestation of quantum radiation reaction affecting the spin dynamics of electrons. We recently proposed that an analog of the Sokolov-Ternov effect could occur in the strong electromagnetic fields of ultra-high-intensity lasers, which would result in a buildup of spin polarization in femtoseconds. In this paper, we develop a density matrix formalism for describing beam polarization in strong electromagnetic fields. We start by using the density matrix formalism to study spin flips in nonlinear Compton scattering and its dependence on the initial polarization state of the electrons. Numerical calculations show a radial polarization of the scattered electron beam in a circularly polarized laser, and we find azimuthal asymmetries in the polarization patterns for ultrashort laser pulses. A degree of polarization approaching 9% is achieved after emitting just a single photon. We develop the theory by deriving a local constant crossed-field approximation (LCFA) for the polarization density matrix, which is a generalization of the well-known LCFA scattering rates. We find spin-dependent expressions that may be included in electromagnetic charged-particle simulation codes, such as particle-in-cell plasma simulation codes, using Monte Carlo modules. In particular, these expressions include the spin-flip rates for arbitrary initial polarization of the electrons. The validity of the LCFA is confirmed by explicit comparison with an exact QED calculation of electron polarization in an ultrashort laser pulse.

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©2019. The Author(s)

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