At Glasgow we routinely use a variety of techniques to imprint structure in the spatial amplitude, phase and polarization of a light beam. This allows us to generate vector vortex beams at high fidelity, with applications in polarimetry and strong focusing. Vector vortex beams can also induce magnetic dipole moments in an atomic medium, in our case rubidium atoms at 100 micro Kelvin, with an orientation that depends on the local polarization direction. This affects, in a nontrivial manner, the propagation of the structured light field through the atomic medium, dependent on an external magnetic field. We show that we can retrieve the orientation of the magnetic field from the absorption of the structured light - an atomic compass.
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