Recent advances in the production and control of high-brightness electron beams (e-beams) have enabled a new class of intense light sources based on the free electron laser (FEL) that can examine matter at ångstrom length and femtosecond
time scales. The free, or unbound, electrons act as the lasing medium, which provides unique opportunities to exquisitely control the spatial and temporal structure of the emitted light through precision manipulation of the electron distribution. We present an experimental demonstration of light with orbital
angular momentum (OAM; ref.) generated from a relativistic e-beam rearranged into an optical scale helix by a laser. With this technique, we show that a Gaussian laser mode can be effectively up-converted to an OAM mode in an FEL using only the e-beam as a mode-converter. Results confirm theoretical predictions and pave the way for the production of coherent OAM light with unprecedented brightness down to hard X-ray wavelengths for wide ranging applications in modern light sources.