The results of a theoretical and experimental investigation of the Gouy effect in Bessel beams are presented. We point out that the peculiar feature of the Bessel beams of being nondiffracting is related to the accumulation of an extra axial phase shift (i.e., the Gouy phase shift) linearly dependent on the propagation distance. The constant spatial rate of variation of the Gouy phase shift is independent of the order of the Bessel beam, while it is a growing function of the transverse component of the angular spectrum wave-vectors, originated by the transverse confinement of the beam. A free-space Mach-Zehnder interferometer has been set-up for measuring the transverse intensity distribution of the interference between holographically-produced finite-aperture Bessel beams of order from zero up to three and a reference Gaussian beam, at a wavelength of 633 nm. The interference patterns have been registered for different propagation distances and show a spatial periodicity, in agreement with the expected period due to the linear increase of the Gouy phase shift of the realized Bessel beams.
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