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The Optics of LifeA Biologist's Guide to Light in Nature$
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Sönke Johnsen

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780691139906

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691139906.001.0001

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Polarization

Polarization

Chapter:
(p.203) Chapter Eight Polarization
Source:
The Optics of Life
Author(s):

Sönke Johnsen

Publisher:
Princeton University Press
DOI:10.23943/princeton/9780691139906.003.0008

This chapter examines polarization. As with radiometry, polarization can be a confusing topic. Unfortunately, unlike radiometry, its complexity is not primarily due to confusing units. The physics of polarized light is genuinely tricky. This is another subfield of optics that is made easier by thinking of light as a wave. Polarized light in nature is a scattering phenomenon. However, not all scattering is equally effective at polarizing light. Two kinds work best. The first is single scattering by particles much smaller than a wavelength of light. The other way in which scattering can create polarized light is via coherent scattering—in particular, reflection from smooth substances such as glass, water, and many leaves or structurally colored objects like iridescent butterfly wings.

Keywords:   polarization, polarized light, scattering, single scattering, coherent scattering, reflection

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