The inherently weak nature of chiral light–matter interactions can be enhanced by orders of magnitude utilizing artificially-engineered nanophotonic structures. These structures enable high spatial concentration of electromagnetic fields with controlled helicity and chirality. However, the effective design and optimization of nanostructures requires defining physical observables which quantify the degree of electromagnetic helicity and chirality. In this perspective, we discuss optical helicity, optical chirality, and their related conservation laws, describing situations in which each provides the most meaningful physical information in free space and in the context of chiral light–matter interactions. First, an instructive comparison is drawn to the concepts of momentum, force, and energy in classical mechanics. In free space, optical helicity closely parallels momentum, whereas optical chirality parallels force. In the presence of macroscopic matter, the optical helicity finds its optimal physical application in the case of lossless, dual-symmetric media, while, in contrast, the optical chirality provides physically observable information in the presence of lossy, dispersive media. Finally, based on numerical simulations of a gold and silicon nanosphere, we discuss how metallic and dielectric nanostructures can generate chiral electromagnetic fields upon interaction with chiral light, offering guidelines for the rational design of nanostructure-enhanced electromagnetic chirality.
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