Fluctuational electrodynamics in atomic and macroscopic systems: Van der Waals interactions and radiative heat transfer

Prashanth S. Venkataram, Jan Hermann, Alexandre Tkatchenko, Alejandro W. Rodriguez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


We present an approach to describing fluctuational electrodynamic interactions, particularly van der Waals (vdW) interactions as well as radiative heat transfer (RHT), between material bodies of potentially vastly different length scales, allowing for going between atomistic and continuum treatments of the response of each of these bodies as desired. Any local continuum description of electromagnetic response is compatible with our approach, while atomistic descriptions in our approach are based on effective electronic and nuclear oscillator degrees of freedom, encapsulating dissipation, short-range electronic correlations, and collective nuclear vibrations (phonons). While our previous works using this approach have focused on presenting novel results, this work focuses on the derivations underlying these methods. First, we show how the distinction between "atomic"and "macroscopic"bodies is ultimately somewhat arbitrary, as formulas for vdW free energies and radiative heat transfer look very similar regardless of how the distinction is drawn. Next, we demonstrate that the atomistic description of material response in our approach yields electromagnetic interaction matrix elements which are expressed in terms of analytical formulas for compact bodies or semianalytical formulas based on Ewald summation for periodic media; we use this to compute vdW interaction free energies as well as RHT powers among small biological molecules in the presence of a metallic plate as well as between parallel graphene sheets in vacuum, showing strong deviations from conventional macroscopic theories due to the confluence of geometry, phonons, and electromagnetic retardation effects. Finally, we propose formulas for efficient computation of fluctuational electrodynamic interactions among material bodies in which those that are treated atomistically as well as those treated through continuum methods may have arbitrary shapes, extending previous surface-integral techniques.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number085403
JournalPhysical Review B
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 15 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Condensed Matter Physics


Dive into the research topics of 'Fluctuational electrodynamics in atomic and macroscopic systems: Van der Waals interactions and radiative heat transfer'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this