OSA's Digital Library

Journal of the Optical Society of America

Journal of the Optical Society of America

  • Vol. 25, Iss. 6 — Jun. 1, 1935
  • pp: 179–181

On the Nature of Unpolarized Light

RAYMOND T. BIRGE  »View Author Affiliations

JOSA, Vol. 25, Issue 6, pp. 179-181 (1935)

View Full Text Article

Acrobat PDF (637 KB)

Browse Journals / Lookup Meetings

Browse by Journal and Year


Lookup Conference Papers

Close Browse Journals / Lookup Meetings

Article Tools



All that can be affirmed regarding the nature of unpolarized light is that it shows no preferential polarization. When, for instance, unpolarized light enters a quartz crystal in a direction parallel to the axis, the light is decomposed into right- and left-circularly polarized beams of equal intensity. This was demonstrated experimentally by Fresnel. By the use of right- and left-handed quartz crystals in the two paths of an interferometer, interference effects occur whose nature can be definitely predicted on the assumption of the existence of such circularly polarized components. An experiment of this nature has been performed by Langsdorf and DuBridge, but the experiment, in itself, furnishes no information as to the nature of unpolarized light.

RAYMOND T. BIRGE, "On the Nature of Unpolarized Light," J. Opt. Soc. Am. 25, 179-181 (1935)

Sort:  Author  |  Journal  |  Reset


  1. A. Langsdorf and L. A. DuBridge, J. Opt. Soc. Am. 24, 1 (1934). To be referred to as "L. and D."
  2. Stefan, Sitz. Ber. Wien. Akad. 50, 380 (1864).
  3. R. W. Wood, Physical Optics 3rd ed., Macmillan Co., 1934, pp. 362, 829.
  4. Sugar solutions were actually used by L. and D., because of lack of suitable quartz plates.
  5. P. A. M. Dirac, Principles of Quantum Mechanics, 1930, Chapter I.
  6. The action of quartz on unpolarized incident light is a good illustration of the arbitrary character of the manufactured components. In general the light splits into two elliptic vibrations, one right-handed and the other lefthanded. The shape and size of the two ellipses are the same, but the major axes are at right angles. For the special direction parallel to the optic axis the two ellipses become circles. For the special set of directions at right angles to the axis the ellipses degenerate into two linear vibrations, at right angles to each other. In all cases the two components are of equal intensity. With incident polarized light of any character whatsoever the only difference in the result is that the two components produced by the quartz are in general of unequal intensity.

Cited By

Alert me when this paper is cited

OSA is able to provide readers links to articles that cite this paper by participating in CrossRef's Cited-By Linking service. CrossRef includes content from more than 3000 publishers and societies. In addition to listing OSA journal articles that cite this paper, citing articles from other participating publishers will also be listed.

« Previous Article  |  Next Article »

OSA is a member of CrossRef.

CrossCheck Deposited