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When circularly polarized light interacts with chiral molecules or nanoscale particles powerful symmetry principles determine the possibility of achieving chiral discrimination, and the detailed form of electrodynamic mechanisms dictate the types of interaction that can be involved. The optical trapping of molecules and nanoscale particles can be described in terms of a forward-Rayleigh scattering mechanism, with trapping forces being dependent on the positioning within the commonly non-uniform intensity beam profile. In such a scheme, nanoparticles are commonly attracted to local potential energy minima, ordinarily towards the centre of the beam. For achiral particles the pertinent material response property usually entails an electronic polarizability involving transition electric dipole moments. However, in the case of chiral molecules, additional effects arise through the engagement of magnetic counterpart transition dipoles. It emerges that, when circularly polarized light is used for the trapping, a discriminatory response can be identified between left- and right-handed polarizations. Developing a quantum framework to accurately describe this phenomenon, with a tensor formulation to correctly represent the relevant molecular properties, the theory leads to exact analytical expressions for the associated energy landscape contributions. Specific results are identified for liquids and solutions, both for isotropic media and also where partial alignment arises due to a static electric field. The paper concludes with a pragmatic analysis of the scope for achieving enantiomer separation by such methods.
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