Mueller calculus

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Mueller calculus is a matrix method for manipulating Stokes vectors, which represent the polarization of light. It was developed in 1943 by Hans Mueller. In this technique, the effect of a particular optical element is represented by a Mueller matrix—a 4×4 matrix that is an overlapping generalization of the Jones matrix.


Disregarding coherent wave superposition, any fully polarized, partially polarized, or unpolarized state of light can be represented by a Stokes vector (); and any optical element can be represented by a Mueller matrix (M).

If a beam of light is initially in the state and then passes through an optical element M and comes out in a state , then it is written

If a beam of light passes through optical element M1 followed by M2 then M3 it is written

given that matrix multiplication is associative it can be written

Matrix multiplication is not commutative, so in general

Mueller vs. Jones calculi[edit]

With disregard for coherence, light which is unpolarized or partially polarized must be treated using the Mueller calculus, while fully polarized light can be treated with either the Mueller calculus or the simpler Jones calculus. Many problems involving coherent light (such as from a laser) must be treated with Jones calculus, however, because it works directly with the electric field of the light rather than with its intensity or power, and thereby retains information about the phase of the waves.

More specifically, the following can be said about Mueller matrices and Jones matrices:[1]

Stokes vectors and Mueller matrices operate on intensities and their differences, i.e. incoherent superpositions of light; they are not adequate to describe either interference or diffraction effects.


Any Jones matrix [J] can be transformed into the corresponding Mueller–Jones matrix, M, using the following relation:[2]


where * indicates the complex conjugate [sic], [A is:]

and ⊗ is the tensor (Kronecker) product.


While the Jones matrix has eight independent parameters [two Cartesian or polar components for each of the four complex values in the 2-by-2 matrix], the absolute phase information is lost in the [equation above], leading to only seven independent matrix elements for a Mueller matrix derived from a Jones matrix.

Mueller matrices[edit]

Below are listed the Mueller matrices for some ideal common optical elements:

General linear polarizer:

where is the angle of the polarizer.

Linear polarizer (Horizontal Transmission)
Linear polarizer (Vertical Transmission)
Linear polarizer (+45° Transmission)
Linear polarizer (-45° Transmission)

General linear retarder (wave plate calculations are made from this):

where is the phase difference between the fast and slow axis and is the angle of the fast axis.

Quarter wave plate (fast-axis vertical)
Quarter wave plate (fast-axis horizontal)
Half wave plate (also Ideal Mirror)
Attenuating filter (25% Transmission)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Savenkov, S. N. (2009). "Jones and Mueller matrices: Structure, symmetry relations and information content". Light Scattering Reviews 4. p. 71. doi:10.1007/978-3-540-74276-0_3. ISBN 978-3-540-74275-3. 
  2. ^ * Nathan G. Parke (1949). "Optical Algebra". Journal of Mathematics and Physics. 28 (1-4): 131. doi:10.1002/sapm1949281131.