Summary
A polarizer or polariser (see spelling differences) is an optical filter that lets light waves of a specific polarization pass through while blocking light waves of other polarizations. It can filter a beam of light of undefined or mixed polarization into a beam of well-defined polarization, that is polarized light. The common types of polarizers are linear polarizers and circular polarizers. Polarizers are used in many optical techniques and instruments, and polarizing filters find applications in photography and LCD technology. Polarizers can also be made for other types of electromagnetic waves besides visible light, such as radio waves, microwaves, and X-rays. Linear polarizers can be divided into two general categories: absorptive polarizers, where the unwanted polarization states are absorbed by the device, and beam-splitting polarizers, where the unpolarized beam is split into two beams with opposite polarization states. Polarizers which maintain the same axes of polarization with varying angles of incidence are often called Cartesian polarizers, since the polarization vectors can be described with simple Cartesian coordinates (for example, horizontal vs. vertical) independent from the orientation of the polarizer surface. When the two polarization states are relative to the direction of a surface (usually found with Fresnel reflection), they are usually termed s and p. This distinction between Cartesian and s–p polarization can be negligible in many cases, but it becomes significant for achieving high contrast and with wide angular spreads of the incident light. Certain crystals, due to the effects described by crystal optics, show dichroism, preferential absorption of light which is polarized in particular directions. They can therefore be used as linear polarizers. The best known crystal of this type is tourmaline. However, this crystal is seldom used as a polarizer, since the dichroic effect is strongly wavelength dependent and the crystal appears coloured.
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