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Polarization of Light


Light is an electromagnetic wave. In an electromagnetic wave, the electric field, the magnetic field, and the direction of propagation are perpendicular to each other.

electromagnetic wave

Polarization refers to the orientation of the electric field in a light wave. Light is plane polarized if its electric field oscillates in a single plane. An unpolarized light can be polarized using reflection, refraction, or absorpition (e.g., polarizer).

linearly polarized light

In linear polarization, the electric field of the wave oscillates in a single plane.

A polarizer is a device that selectively transmits light of a specific polarization and blocks light of other polarizations. A linear polarizers transmit light in a single plane of polarization.

linearly polarized light

Polarization by scattering

Light can be polarized by scattering by passing it through a medium that contains particles larger than the wavelength of the light, such as dust or molecules in a material. When light encounters these particles, it is scattered in all directions, but the electric field of the scattered light is preferentially oriented in a certain plane. This preferential orientation results in the light being polarized.

polarization by scattering
Polarization by scattering


  1. Malus Law
  2. Transverse nature of light
  3. Laser light is polarized
  4. Photography with polarizer