Definition of Polarization
As we discusses in previous atoms, light waves are a type of electromagnetic waves, in the visible spectrum. These electromagnetic (EM) waves are transverse waves. Figure 1 demonstrates that a transverse wave is one oscillates perpendicular to the direction of the energy transfer. If the wave is traveling from left to right, it is oscillating up and down. Polarization is the property of waves that allow them to oscillate in more than one direction, but that direction is relative to that of the direction the wave is traveling in. For an EM wave, the direction of polarization is the direction parallel to the electric field. In Figure 2 you can see that the EM and magnetic fields are perpendicular to the path of travel. Since the direction of polarization is parallel to the electric field, you can consider the blue arrows to be the direction of polarization.
An EM wave, such as light, is a transverse wave. The electric and magnetic fields are perpendicular to the direction of propagation.
How it Works
Now, to examine the effects of passing light through a polarizer, lets look at Figure 3. shows a stationary vertical slot, which will act as a polarizer, and two waves traveling in the same direction, but one is oscillating vertically,a, (and therefore vertically polarized), and the other, b, horizontally. What happens to these waves as they pass through the polarizer?When wave a, the vertically oscillating wave is passed through the vertically polarized slot, nothing happens. The wave passes through untouched or manipulated. When wave b, the horizontally oscillating wave is passed through, the vertically polarized slot blocks the wave, and it is not passed through at all. Now that we understand the concept of polarization, and how it works, how can we apply this to make it useful? Look at Figure 4 . The image on the left is full of glare, which makes it hard to see what we are looking at. The image on the right was taken with a polarized lens, so you only see the image, and none of the annoying glare. How this works is diagramed in Figure 5 . Many light sources are unpolarized, and are comprised of many waves in all possible directions. Polarized lenses only allow one direction of light to pass through, minimizing the unwanted aspects of the light rays, such as glare. Simply, passing light through a polarized material changes the intensity of the light.
A polarizing filter has a polarization axis that acts as a slit passing through electric fields parallel to its direction. The direction of polarization of an EM wave is defined to be the direction of its electric field.
These two photographs of a river show the effect of a polarizing filter in reducing glare in light reflected from the surface of water. Part (b) of this figure was taken with a polarizing filter and part (a) was not. As a result, the reflection of clouds and sky observed in part (a) is not observed in part (b). Polarizing sunglasses are particularly useful on snow and water. (credit: Amithshs, Wikimedia Commons)
Example of passing light through a polarizer
Lets call the angle between the direction of polarization and the axis of the polarization filter θ. The original intensity of the light before it is passed through a filter is denoted by I0. In order to find the new intensity of light after traveling through the material is shown by the following equation:
If you pass light through two polarizing filters, you will get varied effects of polarization. If the two filters are oriented exactly perpendicular to each other, no light will pass through at all. If they are exactly parallel to each other, there will be no additional affect from the additional filter.