Polarization (also polarisation) is a property of waves that can oscillate with more than one orientation. Electromagnetic waves, such as light, and gravitational waves exhibit polarization; sound waves in a gas or liquid are of only one polarization because the medium vibrates only along the direction in which the wave is travelling.
In an electromagnetic wave such as light, both the electric field and magnetic field are oscillating but in different directions. By convention, the "polarization" of light refers to the orientation of the electric field at a fixed point over one period of oscillation. When light travels as a plane wave in free space or in an isotropic medium, it propagates as a transverse wave—both the electric and magnetic fields are perpendicular to the wave's direction of travel. The electric field may be oriented in a single direction (linear polarization), or it may rotate as the wave travels (circular or elliptical polarization). In the latter case, the direction of rotation may be either clockwise or counter clockwise, describing different polarizations; this is referred to as the wave's chirality or handedness.
The polarization of an electromagnetic (EM) wave can be more complicated in certain cases. For instance, waves in a waveguide such as an optical fiber or in an anisotropic medium (such as birefingent crystals as discussed below) the electric and/or magnetic field may have longitudinal as well as transverse components. Even in free space, longitudinal field components are generated in focal regions, where the plane wave approximation breaks down. An extreme example is radially or tangentially polarized light, at the focus of which the electric or magnetic field respectively is entirely longitudinal (along the direction of propagation). In these cases a wave may be described as an electric or magnetic transverse mode, or a hybrid mode.
For longitudinal waves such as sound waves in fluids, the direction of oscillation is by definition along the direction of travel, so the issue of polarization is not normally discussed. In a solid medium, however, sound waves can be transverse, as well as longitudinal, for a total of three polarization components. In this case, the transverse polarization is associated with the direction of the shear stress in the plane perpendicular to the propagation direction. The propagation of transverse and longitudinal polarizations is important in seismology.
Polarization is an important parameter in areas of science dealing with transverse wave propagation, such as optics, seismology, radio and microwaves. Especially impacted are technologies such as lasers, wireless and optical fiber telecommunications, and radar. A polarizer is an optical filter that transmits only one polarization.
- 1 Theory
- 2 Examples and applications
- 3 See also
- 4 Notes and references
- 5 External links
Basics: plane waves
The simplest manifestation of polarization to visualize is that of a plane wave, which is a good approximation of most light waves (a plane wave is a wave with infinitely long and wide wavefronts). For plane waves Maxwell's equations, specifically Gauss's laws, impose the transversality requirement that the electric and magnetic field be perpendicular to the direction of propagation and to each other. Conventionally, when considering polarization, the electric field vector is described and the magnetic field is ignored since it is perpendicular to the electric field and proportional to it. The electric field vector of a plane wave may be arbitrarily divided into two perpendicular components labeled x and y (with z indicating the direction of travel). For a simple harmonic wave, where the amplitude of the electric vector varies in a sinusoidal manner in time, the two components have exactly the same frequency. However, these components have two other defining characteristics that can differ. First, the two components may not have the same amplitude. Second, the two components may not have the same phase, that is they may not reach their maxima and minima at the same time. Mathematically, the electric field of a plane wave can be written as,
where and are the amplitudes of the x and y directions and is the relative phase between the two components.
The shape traced out in a fixed plane by the electric vector as such a plane wave passes over it (a Lissajous figure) is a description of the polarization state. The following figures show some examples of the evolution of the electric field vector (black), with time (the vertical axes), at a particular point in space, along with its x and y components (red/left and blue/right), and the path traced by the tip of the vector in the plane (yellow in figure 1&3, purple in figure 2): The same evolution would occur when looking at the electric field at a particular time while evolving the point in space, along the direction opposite to propagation.
In the leftmost figure above, the two orthogonal (perpendicular) components are in phase. In this case the ratio of the strengths of the two components is constant, so the direction of the electric vector (the vector sum of these two components) is constant. Since the tip of the vector traces out a single line in the plane, this special case is called linear polarization. The direction of this line depends on the relative amplitudes of the two components.
In the middle figure, the two orthogonal components have exactly the same amplitude and are exactly ninety degrees out of phase. In this case one component is zero when the other component is at maximum or minimum amplitude. There are two possible phase relationships that satisfy this requirement: the x component can be ninety degrees ahead of the y component or it can be ninety degrees behind the y component. In this special case the electric vector traces out a circle in the plane, so this special case is called circular polarization. The direction the field rotates in depends on which of the two phase relationships exists. These cases are called right-hand circular polarization and left-hand circular polarization, depending on which way the electric vector rotates and the chosen convention.
Another case is when the two components are not in phase and either do not have the same amplitude or are not ninety degrees out of phase, though their phase offset and their amplitude ratio are constant. This kind of polarization is called elliptical polarization because the electric vector traces out an ellipse in the plane (the polarization ellipse). This is shown in the above figure on the right.
The "Cartesian" decomposition of the electric field into x and y components is, of course, arbitrary. Plane waves of any polarization can be described instead by combining any two orthogonally polarized waves, for instance waves of opposite circular polarization. The Cartesian polarization decomposition is natural when dealing with reflection from surfaces, birefringent materials, or synchrotron radiation. The circularly polarized modes are a more useful basis for the study of light propagation in stereoisomers.
Though this section discusses polarization for idealized plane waves, all the above is a very accurate description for most practical optical experiments which use TEM modes, including Gaussian optics.
||This section needs attention from an expert in Physics. (February 2009)|
For ease of visualization, polarization states are often specified in terms of the polarization ellipse, specifically its orientation and elongation. A common parameterization uses the orientation angle, ψ, the angle between the major semi-axis of the ellipse and the x-axis (also known as tilt angle or azimuth angle) and the ellipticity, ε, the major-to-minor-axis ratio (also known as the axial ratio). An ellipticity of zero or infinity corresponds to linear polarization and an ellipticity of 1 corresponds to circular polarization. The ellipticity angle, χ = arccot ε= arctan 1/ε, is also commonly used. An example is shown in the diagram to the right. An alternative to the ellipticity or ellipticity angle is the eccentricity; however, unlike the azimuth angle and ellipticity angle, the latter has no obvious geometrical interpretation in terms of the Poincaré sphere (see below).
Full information on a completely polarized state is also provided by the amplitude and phase of oscillations in two components of the electric field vector in the plane of polarization. This representation was used above to show how different states of polarization are possible. The amplitude and phase information can be conveniently represented as a two-dimensional complex vector (the Jones vector):
Here and denote the amplitude of the wave in the two components of the electric field vector, while and represent the phases. The product of a Jones vector with a complex number of unit modulus gives a different Jones vector representing the same ellipse, and thus the same state of polarization. The physical electric field, as the real part of the Jones vector, would be altered but the polarization state itself is independent of absolute phase. The basis vectors used to represent the Jones vector need not represent linear polarization states (i.e. be real). In general any two orthogonal states can be used, where an orthogonal vector pair is formally defined as one having a zero inner product. A common choice is left and right circular polarizations, for example to model the different propagation of waves in two such components in circularly birefringent media (see below) or signal paths of coherent detectors sensitive to circular polarization.
Regardless of whether polarization ellipses are represented using geometric parameters or Jones vectors, implicit in the parameterization is the orientation of the coordinate frame. This permits a degree of freedom, namely rotation about the propagation direction. When considering light that is propagating parallel to the surface of the Earth, the terms "horizontal" and "vertical" polarization are often used, with the former being associated with the first component of the Jones vector, or zero azimuth angle. On the other hand, in astronomy the equatorial coordinate system is generally used instead, with the zero azimuth (or position angle, as it is more commonly called in astronomy to avoid confusion with the horizontal coordinate system) corresponding to due north.
s and p designations
Another coordinate system frequently used relates to the plane made by the propagation direction and a vector perpendicular to the plane of a reflecting surface. This is known as the plane of incidence. The component of the electric field parallel to this plane is termed p-like (parallel) and the component perpendicular to this plane is termed s-like (from senkrecht, German for perpendicular). Polarized light with its electric field along the plane of incidence is thus denoted p-polarized, while light whose electric field is normal to the plane of incidence is called s-polarized. p polarization is commonly referred to as transverse-magnetic (TM), and has also been termed pi-polarized or tangential plane polarized. s polarized light is also called transverse-electric (TE), as well as sigma-polarized or sagittal plane polarized.
Most common sources of visible light, including thermal (black body) radiation and flourescence (but not lasers), produce light described as "incoherent". Radiation is produced independently by a large number of atoms or molecules whose emissions are uncorrelated and generally of random polarizations. In this case the light is said to be unpolarized. This term is somewhat inexact, since at any instant of time at one location there is a definite direction to the electric and magnetic fields, however it implies that the polarization changes so quickly in time that it will not be measured or relevant to the outcome of an experiment. A so-called depolarizer acts on a polarized beam to create one which is actually fully polarized at every point, but in which the polarization varies so rapidly across the beam that it may be ignored in the intended applications.
Light is said to be partially polarized when there is more power in one polarization mode than another. At any particular wavelength, partially polarized light can be statistically described as the superposition of a completely unpolarized component, and a completely polarized one. One may then describe the light in terms of the degree of polarization, and the parameters of the polarized component. Stokes parameters are the most common way of specifying such states of partial polarization.
Polarization in wave propagation
In a vacuum, the components of the electric field propagate at the speed of light, so that the phase of the wave varies in space and time while the polarization state does not. That is, the electric field vector e of a plane wave in the +z direction follows:
where k is the wavenumber. As noted above, the instantaneous electric field is the real part of the product of the Jones vector times the phase factor . When an electromagnetic wave interacts with matter, its propagation is altered according to the material's (complex) index of refraction. When the real or imaginary part of that refractive index is dependent on the polarization state of a wave, properties known as birefringence and polarization dichroism (or diattenuation) respectively, then the polarization state of a wave will generally be altered.
In such media, an electromagnetic wave with any given state of polarization may be decomposed into two orthogonally polarized components that encounter different propagation constants. The effect of propagation over a given path on those two components is most easily characterized in the form of a complex 2×2 transformation matrix J known as a Jones matrix:
The Jones matrix due to passage through a transparent material is dependent on the propagation distance as well as the birefringence. The birefringence (as well as the average refractive index) will generally be dispersive, that is, it will vary as a function of optical frequency (wavelength). In the case of non-birefringent materials, however, the 2×2 Jones matrix is the identity matrix (multiplied by a scalar phase factor and attenuation factor), implying no change in polarization during propagation.
For propagation effects in two orthogonal modes, the Jones matrix can be written as
where g1 and g2 are complex numbers describing the phase delay and possibly the amplitude attenuation due to propagation in each of the two polarization eigenmodes. T is a unitary matrix representing a change of basis from these propagation modes to the linear system used for the Jones vectors; in the case of linear birefringence or diattenuation the modes are themselves linear polarization states so T and T-1 can be omitted if the coordinate axes have been chosen appropriately. In media termed birefringent, in which the amplitudes are unchanged but a differential phase delay occurs, the Jones matrix is a unitary matrix: |g1| = |g2| = 1. Media termed diattenuating (or dichroic in the sense of polarization), in which only the amplitudes of the two polarizations are affected differentially, may be described using a Hermitian matrix (generally multiplied by a common phase factor). In fact, since any matrix may be written as the product of unitary and positive Hermitian matrices, light propagation through any sequence of polarization-dependent optical components can be written as the product of these two basic types of transformations.
In birefringent media there is no attenuation but two modes accrue a differential phase delay. Well known manifestations of linear birefringence (that is, in which the basis polarizations are orthogonal linear polarizations) appear in optical wave plates/retarders and many crystals. If linearly polarized light passes through a birefringent material, its state of polarization will generally change unless its polarization direction is identical to one of those basis polarizations. Since the phase shift, and thus the change in polarization state, is usually wavelength dependent, such objects viewed under white light in between two polarizers may give rise to colorful effects, as seen in the accompanying photograph.
Circular birefringence is also termed optical activity especially in chiral fluids, or Faraday rotation when due to the presence of a magnetic field along the direction of propagation. When linearly polarized light is passed through such an object, it will exit still linearly polarized but with the axis of polarization rotated. A combination of linear and circular birefringence will have as basis polarizations two orthogonal elliptical polarizations; the term "elliptical birefringence" however is rarely used.
Paths taken by vectors in the Poincaré sphere under birefringence. The propagation modes (rotation axes) are shown with red, blue, and yellow lines, the initial vectors by thick black lines, and the paths they take by colored ellipses (which represent circles in three dimensions).
One can visualize the case of linear birefringence (with two orthogonal linear propagation modes) with an incoming wave linearly polarized at a 45° angle to those modes. As a differential phase starts to accrue, the polarization becomes elliptical, eventually changing to purely circular polarization (90° phase difference), then to elliptical and eventually linear polarization (180° phase) perpendicular to the original polarization, then through circular again (270° phase), then elliptical with the original azimuth angle, and finally back to the original linearly polarized state (360° phase) where the cycle begins anew. In general the situation is more complicated and can be characterized as a rotation in the Poincaré sphere about the axis defined by the propagation modes (this is a consequence of the isomorphism of SU(2) with SO(3)). Examples for linear (blue), circular (red), and elliptical (yellow) birefringence are shown in the figure on the left. The total intensity and degree of polarization are unaffected. If the path length in the birefringent medium is sufficient, the two polarization components of a collimated beam (or ray) can exit the material with a positional offset, even though their final propagation directions will be the same (assuming the entrance face and exit face are parallel). This is commonly viewed using calcite crystals, which present the viewer with two slightly offset images, in opposite polarizations, of an object behind the crystal. It was this effect that provided the first discovery of polarization, by Erasmus Bartholinus in 1669.
Media in which the amplitude of waves propagating in one of the modes is reduced are called dichroic. Devices that block nearly all of the radiation in one mode are known as polarizing filters or simply "polarizers". This corresponds to g2=0 in the above representation of the Jones matrix; in terms of Stokes parameters, the total intensity is cut in half (or less) while vectors in the Poincaré sphere are "dragged" to the position of the favored mode. Mathematically, under the treatment of the Stokes parameters as a Minkowski 4-vector, the transformation is a scaled Lorentz boost (due to the isomorphism of SL(2,C) and the restricted Lorentz group, SO(3,1)). Just as the Lorentz transformation preserves the proper time, the quantity det Ψ = S02 − S12 − S22 − S32 is invariant within a multiplicative scalar constant under Jones matrix transformations (dichroic and/or birefringent).
In birefringent and dichroic media, in addition to writing a Jones matrix for the net effect of passing through a particular path in a given medium, the evolution of the polarization state along that path can be characterized as the (matrix) product of an infinite series of infinitesimal steps, each operating on the state produced by all earlier matrices. In a uniform medium each step is the same, and one may write
where J is an overall (real) gain/loss factor. Here D is a traceless matrix such that αDe gives the derivative of e with respect to z. If D is Hermitian the effect is dichroism, while a unitary matrix models birefringence. The matrix D can be expressed as a linear combination of the Pauli matrices, where real coefficients give Hermitian matrices and imaginary coefficients give unitary matrices. The Jones matrix in each case may therefore be written with the convenient construction
where σ is a 3-vector composed of the Pauli matrices (used here as generators for the Lie group SL(2,C)) and n and m are real 3-vectors on the Poincaré sphere corresponding to one of the propagation modes of the medium. The effects in that space correspond to a Lorentz boost of velocity parameter 2β along the given direction, or a rotation of angle 2φ about the given axis. These transformations may also be written as biquaternions (quaternions with complex elements), where the elements are related to the Jones matrix in the same way that the Stokes parameters are related to the coherency matrix. They may then be applied in pre- and post-multiplication to the quaternion representation of the coherency matrix, with the usual exploitation of the quaternion exponential for performing rotations and boosts taking a form equivalent to the matrix exponential equations above. (See Quaternion rotation)
Polarization in specular reflection
In addition to birefringence and dichroism in extended media, polarization effects describable using Jones matrices can also occur at (reflective) interface between two materials of different refractive index. These effects are treated by the Fresnel equations. Part of the wave is transmitted and part is reflected; for a given material those proportions are dependent on the angle of incidence and are different for the s and p polarizations. Therefore the polarization state of reflected light (even if initially unpolarized) is generally changed. In addition, if the plane of the reflecting surface is not aligned with the plane of propagation of the wave, the polarization of the two parts is altered[clarification needed]. For unpolarized light striking a surface at a special angle of incidence known as Brewster's angle, where the reflection coefficient for p polarization is zero, the reflected wave will therefore be completely s-polarized. The generally smaller reflection coefficient of the p polarization is the basis of polarized sunglasses; by blocking the s (horizontal) polarization, most of the glare due to reflection from a wet street, for instance, is removed.
The transmission of plane waves through a homogeneous medium are fully described in terms of Jones vectors and 2×2 Jones matrices. However in practice there are cases in which all of the light cannot be viewed in such a simple manner due to spatial inhomogeneities or the presence of mutually incoherent waves. So-called depolarization, for instance, cannot be described using Jones matrices. For these cases it is usual instead to use a 4×4 matrix that acts upon the Stokes 4-vector. Such matrices were first used by Paul Soleillet in 1929, although they have come to be known as Mueller matrices. While every Jones matrix has a Mueller matrix, the reverse is not true. Mueller matrices are then used to describe the observed polarization effects of the scattering of waves from complex surfaces or ensembles of particles, as shall now be presented.
Parameterization of incoherent or partially polarized radiation
The Jones vector perfectly describes the state of polarization and phase of a single monochromatic wave, representing a pure state of polarization as described above. However any mixture of waves of different polarizations (or even of different frequencies) do not correspond to a Jones vector. In so-called partially polarized radiation the fields are stochastic, and the variations and correlations between components of the electric field can only be described statistically. One such representation is the coherency matrix:
where angular brackets denote averaging over many wave cycles. Several variants of the coherency matrix have been proposed: the Wiener coherency matrix and the spectral coherency matrix of Richard Barakat measure the coherence of a spectral decomposition of the signal, while the Wolf coherency matrix averages over all time/frequencies.
The coherency matrix contains all second order statistical information about the polarization. This matrix can be decomposed into the sum of two idempotent matrices, corresponding to the eigenvectors of the coherency matrix, each representing a polarization state that is orthogonal to the other. An alternative decomposition is into completely polarized (zero determinant) and unpolarized (scaled identity matrix) components. In either case, the operation of summing the components corresponds to the incoherent superposition of waves from the two components. The latter case gives rise to the concept of the "degree of polarization"; i.e., the fraction of the total intensity contributed by the completely polarized component.
The coherency matrix is not easy to visualize, and it is therefore common to describe incoherent or partially polarized radiation in terms of its total intensity (I), (fractional) degree of polarization (p), and the shape parameters of the polarization ellipse. An alternative and mathematically convenient description is given by the Stokes parameters, introduced by George Gabriel Stokes in 1852. The relationship of the Stokes parameters to intensity and polarization ellipse parameters is shown in the equations and figure below.
Here Ip, 2ψ and 2χ are the spherical coordinates of the polarization state in the three-dimensional space of the last three Stokes parameters. Note the factors of two before ψ and χ corresponding respectively to the facts that any polarization ellipse is indistinguishable from one rotated by 180°, or one with the semi-axis lengths swapped accompanied by a 90° rotation. The Stokes parameters are sometimes denoted I, Q, U and V.
The Stokes parameters contain all of the information of the coherency matrix, and are related to it linearly by means of the identity matrix plus the three Pauli matrices:
Mathematically, the factor of two relating physical angles to their counterparts in Stokes space derives from the use of second-order moments and correlations, and incorporates the loss of information due to absolute phase invariance.
The figure above makes use of a convenient representation of the last three Stokes parameters as components in a three-dimensional vector space. This space is closely related to the Poincaré sphere, which is the spherical surface occupied by completely polarized states in the space of the vector
All four Stokes parameters can also be combined into the four-dimensional Stokes vector, which can be interpreted as four-vectors of Minkowski space. In this case, all physically realizable polarization states correspond to time-like, future-directed vectors.
Examples and applications
In nature and photography
Unpolarized light, after reflection at a specular (shiny) surface, generally obtains a degree of polarization. This phenomenon was observed in 1808 by the mathematician Étienne-Louis Malus after whom Malus' law is named. One can use a linear polarizer, such as the lens of polarizing sunglasses, to observe this effect by rotating the filter while looking through it at a reflection from a shiny surface, especially at a grazing angle. As a function of rotation angle, the intensity of the reflected light will vary. That is because polarizers remove light in one polarization component. If two polarizers are placed atop one another with their axes at 90° angles to one another, there is practically no light transmission.
Polarization by scattering from particulate matter is observed from sunlight passing through the atmosphere. The scattered light produces the brightness and color in clear skies. This partial polarization of scattered light can be used to darken the sky in photographs, increasing the contrast. This effect is easiest to observe at sunset, on the horizon at a 90° angle from the setting sun. Another easily observed effect is the drastic reduction in the brightness of light reflected from horizontal surfaces (see Brewster's angle), which is the reason polarizers are used in some sunglasses. Also frequently visible through polarizing sunglasses are rainbow-like patterns caused by color-dependent birefringent effects, for example in toughened glass (e.g., car windows) or items made from transparent plastics. The role played by polarization in the operation of liquid crystal displays (LCDs) is immediately apparent to the wearer of polarizing sunglasses, often making the display unreadable.
The photograph on the right was taken through polarizing sunglasses and through the rear window of a car. Light from the sky is reflected by the windshield of the other car at an angle, making it mostly horizontally polarized. The rear window is made of tempered glass. Stress from heat treatment of the glass alters the polarization of light passing through it, like a wave plate. Without this effect, the sunglasses would block the horizontally polarized light reflected from the other car's window. The stress in the rear window, however, changes some of the horizontally polarized light into vertically polarized light that can pass through the glasses. As a result, the regular pattern of the heat treatment becomes visible.
Many animals are capable of perceiving some of the components of the polarization of light, e.g., linear horizontally polarized light. This is generally used for navigational purposes, since the linear polarization of sky light is always perpendicular to the direction of the sun. This ability is very common among the insects, including bees, which use this information to orient their communicative dances. Polarization sensitivity has also been observed in species of octopus, squid, cuttlefish, and mantis shrimp. In the latter case, one species measures all six orthogonal components of polarization, and is believed to have optimal polarization vision. The rapidly changing, vividly colored skin patterns of cuttlefish, used for communication, also incorporate polarization patterns, and mantis shrimp are known to have polarization selective reflective tissue. Sky polarization was thought to be perceived by pigeons, which was assumed to be one of their aids in homing, but research indicates this is a popular myth.
The naked human eye is weakly sensitive to polarization, without the need for intervening filters. Polarized light creates a very faint pattern near the center of the visual field, called Haidinger's brush. This pattern is very difficult to see, but with practice one can learn to detect polarized light with the naked eye.
The property of (linear) birefringence is widespread in crystalline minerals, and indeed was pivotal in the initial discovery of polarization. In mineralogy, this property is frequently exploited using polarization microscopes, for the purpose of identifying minerals. See optical mineralogy for more details.
Polarization is principally of importance in chemistry due to circular dichroism and "optical rotation" (circular birefringence) exhibited by optically active (chiral) molecules. It may be measured using polarimetry.
The term "polarization" may also refer to the through-bond (inductive or resonant effect) or through-space influence of a nearby functional group on the electronic properties (e.g., dipole moment) of a covalent bond or atom. This concept is based on the formation of an electric dipole within a molecule, which is related to polarization of electromagnetic waves in infrared spectroscopy. Molecules will absorb infrared light if the frequency of the bond vibration is resonant with (identical to) the incident light frequency, where the molecular vibration at hand produces a change in the dipole moment of the molecule. In some nonlinear optical processes, the direction of an oscillating dipole will dictate the polarization of the emitted electromagnetic radiation, as in vibrational sum frequency generation spectroscopy or similar processes.
Polarized light does interact with anisotropic materials, which is the basis for birefringence. This is usually seen in crystalline materials and is especially useful in geology (see above). The polarized light is "double refracted", as the refractive index is different for horizontally and vertically polarized light in these materials. This is to say, the polarizability of anisotropic materials is not equivalent in all directions. This anisotropy causes changes in the polarization of the incident beam, and is easily observable using cross-polar microscopy or polarimetry. The optical rotation of chiral compounds (as opposed to achiral compounds that form anisotropic crystals), is derived from circular birefringence. Like linear birefringence described above, circular birefringence is the "double refraction" of circular polarized light.
In many areas of astronomy, the study of polarized electromagnetic radiation from outer space is of great importance. Although not usually a factor in the thermal radiation of stars, polarization is also present in radiation from coherent astronomical sources (e.g. hydroxyl or methanol masers), and incoherent sources such as the large radio lobes in active galaxies, and pulsar radio radiation (which may, it is speculated, sometimes be coherent), and is also imposed upon starlight by scattering from interstellar dust. Apart from providing information on sources of radiation and scattering, polarization also probes the interstellar magnetic field via Faraday rotation. The polarization of the cosmic microwave background is being used to study the physics of the very early universe. Synchrotron radiation is inherently polarised. It has been suggested that astronomical sources caused the chirality of biological molecules on Earth.
Polarization is also used for some 3D movies, in which the images intended for each eye are either projected from two different projectors with orthogonally oriented polarizing filters or, more typically, from a single projector with time multiplexed polarization (a fast alternating polarization device for successive frames). Polarized 3D glasses with suitable polarized filters ensure that each eye receives only the intended image. Historical stereoscopic projection displays used linear polarization encoding because it was inexpensive and offered good separation. Circular polarization makes left-eye/right-eye separation insensitive to the viewing orientation; circular polarization is used in typical 3-D movie exhibition today, such as the system from RealD. Polarized 3-D only works on screens that maintain polarization (such as silver screens); a normal projection screen would cause depolarization which would void the effect.
Communication and radar
All radio transmitting and receiving antennas are intrinsically polarized, special use[clarification needed] of which is made in radar. Most antennas radiate either horizontal, vertical, or circular polarization although elliptical polarization also exists. The electric field or E-plane determines the polarization or orientation of the radio wave. Vertical polarization is most often used when it is desired to radiate a radio signal in all directions such as widely distributed mobile units. AM and FM radio use vertical polarization, while television uses horizontal polarization. Alternating vertical and horizontal polarization is used on satellite communications (including television satellites), to allow the satellite to carry two separate transmissions on a given frequency, thus doubling the number of channels a customer can receive through one satellite. Electronically controlled birefringent devices such as photoelastic modulators are used in combination with polarizing filters as modulators in fiber optics.
Sky polarization has been exploited in the "sky compass", which was used in the 1950s when navigating near the poles of the Earth's magnetic field when neither the sun nor stars were visible (e.g., under daytime cloud or twilight). It has been suggested, controversially, that the Vikings exploited a similar device (the "sunstone") in their extensive expeditions across the North Atlantic in the 9th–11th centuries, before the arrival of the magnetic compass in Europe in the 12th century. Related to the sky compass is the "polar clock", invented by Charles Wheatstone in the late 19th century.
Experiment demonstrating spin induced by polarisation
A University of St Andrews team have caused a microscopic bead of calcium carbonate 4 micrometres in diameter to rotate at speeds of up to 600 million revolutions per minute. The bead was levitated in a vacuum by a laser light shone from below - somewhat like a beach ball held up by a jet of water. The laser light exerted a small twist on the levitating sphere, causing it to increase its rate of spin. The spin eventually achieved caused an angular acceleration at the bead surface some one billion times that of gravity on the Earth surface, but which oddly did not lead to the bead's disintegration. 
Notes and references
- Principles of Optics, 7th edition, M. Born & E. Wolf, Cambridge University, 1999, ISBN 0-521-64222-1.
- Fundamentals of polarized light: a statistical optics approach, C. Brosseau, Wiley, 1998, ISBN 0-471-14302-2.
- Polarized Light, second edition, Dennis Goldstein, Marcel Dekker, 2003, ISBN 0-8247-4053-X
- Field Guide to Polarization, Edward Collett, SPIE Field Guides vol. FG05, SPIE, 2005, ISBN 0-8194-5868-6.
- Polarization Optics in Telecommunications, Jay N. Damask, Springer 2004, ISBN 0-387-22493-9.
- Optics, 4th edition, Eugene Hecht, Addison Wesley 2002, ISBN 0-8053-8566-5.
- Polarized Light in Nature, G. P. Können, Translated by G. A. Beerling, Cambridge University, 1985, ISBN 0-521-25862-6.
- Polarised Light in Science and Nature, D. Pye, Institute of Physics, 2001, ISBN 0-7503-0673-4.
- Polarized Light, Production and Use, William A. Shurcliff, Harvard University, 1962.
- Ellipsometry and Polarized Light, R. M. A. Azzam and N. M. Bashara, North-Holland, 1977, ISBN 0-444-87016-4
- Secrets of the Viking Navigators—How the Vikings used their amazing sunstones and other techniques to cross the open oceans, Leif Karlsen, One Earth Press, 2003.
- Dorn, R. and Quabis, S. and Leuchs, G. (dec 2003). "Sharper Focus for a Radially Polarized Light Beam". Physical Review Letters 91 (23,): 233901–+. Bibcode:2003PhRvL..91w3901D. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.91.233901.
- Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1960) Radiative transfer, p.27
- M. A. Sletten and D. J. McLaughlin, "Radar polarimetry", in K. Chang (ed.), Encyclopedia of RF and Microwave Engineering, John Wiley & Sons, 2005, ISBN 978-0-471-27053-9, 5832 pp.
- Merrill Ivan Skolnik (1990) Radar Handbook, Fig. 6.52, sec. 6.60.
- Hamish Meikle (2001) Modern Radar Systems, eq. 5.83.
- T. Koryu Ishii (Editor), 1995, Handbook of Microwave Technology. Volume 2, Applications, p. 177.
- John Volakis (ed) 2007 Antenna Engineering Handbook, Fourth Edition, sec. 26.1. Note: in contrast with other authors, this source initially defines ellipticity reciprocally, as the minor-to-major-axis ratio, but then goes on to say that "Although [it] is less than unity, when expressing ellipticity in decibels, the minus sign is frequently omitted for convenience", which essentially reverts back to the definition adopted by other authors.
- Sonja Kleinlogel, Andrew White (2008). "The secret world of shrimps: polarisation vision at its best". PLoS ONE 3 (5): e2190. arXiv:0804.2162. Bibcode:2008PLoSO...3.2190K. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002190. PMC 2377063. PMID 18478095.
- "No evidence for polarization sensitivity in the pigeon electroretinogram", J. J. Vos Hzn, M. A. J. M. Coemans & J. F. W. Nuboer, The Journal of Experimental Biology, 1995.
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- A virtual polarization microscope
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- Using polarizers in photography
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- Electromagnetic waves and circular dichroism: an animated tutorial
- HyperPhysics: Polarization concepts
- Tutorial on rotating polarization through waveplates (retarders)
- SPIE technical group on polarization
- A Java simulation on using polarizers
- Antenna Polarization
- Animations of Linear, Circular and Elliptical Polarizations on YouTube