The process of confining the vibrations of the electric vector of light waves to one direction. In unpolarized light the electric field vibrates in all directions perpendicular to the direction of propagation. After reflection or transmission through certain substances (see Polaroid) the electric field is confined to one direction and the radiation is said to be plane-polarized light. The plane of plane-polarized light can be rotated when it passes through certain substances (see optical activity).
In circularly polarized light, the tip of the electric vector describes a circular helix about the direction of propagation with a frequency equal to the frequency of the light. The magnitude of the vector remains constant. In elliptically polarized light, the vector also rotates about the direction of propagation but the amplitude changes; a projection of the vector on a plane at right angles to the direction of propagation describes an ellipse. Circularly and elliptically polarized light are produced using a retardation plate.
Subjects: Chemistry — Physics.