Circularly polarized light can be obtained by using either polarization conversion or structural chirality. Here we reveal a fundamentally unrelated mechanism of generating circularly polarized light using coupled nonequilibrium sources. We show that thermal emission from a compact dimer of subwavelength, anisotropic antennas can be highly circularly polarized when the antennas are at unequal temperatures. Furthermore, the handedness of emitted light is flipped upon interchanging the temperatures of the antennas, thereby enabling reconfigurability of the polarization state lacked by most circularly polarized light sources. We describe the fundamental origin of this mechanism using rigorous fluctuational electrodynamic analysis and further provide practical examples for its experimental implementation. Apart from the technology applications in reconfigurable devices, communication, and sensing, this work motivates new inquiries of angular-momentum-related thermal-radiation phenomena using thermal nonequilibrium, without applying magnetic field.
Our work led to a fundamental understanding of universal spin-momentum locking of light and near-field properties of light's polarization.
We introduced a universal right handed electromagnetic triplet consisting of electromagnetic momentum, decay and spin.
We have predicted the existence of a new topological phase of matter exhibiting photon spin-1 quantization.