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Experimental demonstration of Polarisation of light

Description Table of Contents Reviews. Summary We humans cannot see when light is polarized and this leads to unfortunate misapprehensions about this aspect of nature. Even scientists who should know better often assume that it is an obscure topic of specialized interest in only a few rather isolated areas. In fact, it is a universal feature of our world and most natural light is at least partially polarized. The filter can be thought of as having long-chain molecules that are aligned within the filter in the same direction.

During the fabrication of the filter, the long-chain molecules are stretched across the filter so that each molecule is as much as possible aligned in say the vertical direction.

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As unpolarized light strikes the filter, the portion of the waves vibrating in the vertical direction are absorbed by the filter. The general rule is that the electromagnetic vibrations that are in a direction parallel to the alignment of the molecules are absorbed. The alignment of these molecules gives the filter a polarization axis. This polarization axis extends across the length of the filter and only allows vibrations of the electromagnetic wave that are parallel to the axis to pass through.

Any vibrations that are perpendicular to the polarization axis are blocked by the filter. Thus, a Polaroid filter with its long-chain molecules aligned horizontally will have a polarization axis aligned vertically. Such a filter will block all horizontal vibrations and allow the vertical vibrations to be transmitted see diagram above. On the other hand, a Polaroid filter with its long-chain molecules aligned vertically will have a polarization axis aligned horizontally; this filter will block all vertical vibrations and allow the horizontal vibrations to be transmitted.

Polarization of light by use of a Polaroid filter is often demonstrated in a Physics class through a variety of demonstrations.

Polarised Light in Science and Nature

Filters are used to look through and view objects. The filter does not distort the shape or dimensions of the object; it merely serves to produce a dimmer image of the object since one-half of the light is blocked as it passed through the filter. A pair of filters is often placed back to back in order to view objects looking through two filters.

By slowly rotating the second filter, an orientation can be found in which all the light from an object is blocked and the object can no longer be seen when viewed through two filters. In this demonstration, the light was polarized upon passage through the first filter; perhaps only vertical vibrations were able to pass through.

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These vertical vibrations were then blocked by the second filter since its polarization filter is aligned in a horizontal direction. While you are unable to see the axes on the filter, you will know when the axes are aligned perpendicular to each other because with this orientation, all light is blocked. So by use of two filters, one can completely block all of the light that is incident upon the set; this will only occur if the polarization axes are rotated such that they are perpendicular to each other. A picket-fence analogy is often used to explain how this dual-filter demonstration works.

A picket fence can act as a polarizer by transforming an unpolarized wave in a rope into a wave that vibrates in a single plane.


The spaces between the pickets of the fence will allow vibrations that are parallel to the spacings to pass through while blocking any vibrations that are perpendicular to the spacings. Obviously, a vertical vibration would not have the room to make it through a horizontal spacing. If two picket fences are oriented such that the pickets are both aligned vertically, then vertical vibrations will pass through both fences. On the other hand, if the pickets of the second fence are aligned horizontally, then the vertical vibrations that pass through the first fence will be blocked by the second fence.

This is depicted in the diagram below.

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In the same manner, two Polaroid filters oriented with their polarization axes perpendicular to each other will block all the light. Now that's a pretty cool observation that could never be explained by a particle view of light. Unpolarized light can also undergo polarization by reflection off of nonmetallic surfaces. The extent to which polarization occurs is dependent upon the angle at which the light approaches the surface and upon the material that the surface is made of. Metallic surfaces reflect light with a variety of vibrational directions; such reflected light is unpolarized.

However, nonmetallic surfaces such as asphalt roadways, snowfields and water reflect light such that there is a large concentration of vibrations in a plane parallel to the reflecting surface. A person viewing objects by means of light reflected off of nonmetallic surfaces will often perceive a glare if the extent of polarization is large. Fishermen are familiar with this glare since it prevents them from seeing fish that lie below the water. Light reflected off a lake is partially polarized in a direction parallel to the water's surface.

Polarised Light in Science and Nature - CRC Press Book

Fishermen know that the use of glare-reducing sunglasses with the proper polarization axis allows for the blocking of this partially polarized light. By blocking the plane-polarized light, the glare is reduced and the fisherman can more easily see fish located under the water.

Polarization can also occur by the refraction of light. Refraction occurs when a beam of light passes from one material into another material. At the surface of the two materials, the path of the beam changes its direction. The refracted beam acquires some degree of polarization. Most often, the polarization occurs in a plane perpendicular to the surface.

The polarization of refracted light is often demonstrated in a Physics class using a unique crystal that serves as a double-refracting crystal. Iceland Spar, a rather rare form of the mineral calcite, refracts incident light into two different paths. The light is split into two beams upon entering the crystal. Subsequently, if an object is viewed by looking through an Iceland Spar crystal, two images will be seen. The incredible Edwin Land: Beetles, Displays and Count Dracula?

Can your eye see polarization? Dancing under a polarized sky.