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Journal of the Optical Society of America

Journal of the Optical Society of America

  • Vol. 52, Iss. 7 — Jul. 1, 1962
  • pp: 747–750

Ultimate Performance of Polarizers for Visible Light

R. CLARK JONES  »View Author Affiliations

JOSA, Vol. 52, Issue 7, pp. 747-750 (1962)

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Polarizers with transmittances of 35 to 45% are common (Nicol prisms, dichroic polarizers); with non-reflecting coatings, such polarizers can be made with transmittances approaching 50%. Beam-splitting polarizers can be made with transmittances approaching 100%, but these polarizers are not “spathic”: The geometry of the emergent beam is quite different from the geometry of the entering beam.

In this paper it is shown that a spathic polarizer with a transmittance of 100% is impossible; such a polarizer would violate the laws of thermodynamics. It is shown how one can construct in principle a spathic polarizer with a transmittance of about 89%, the exact figure depending on the brightness and wavelength of the light. It is further shown that as far as thermodynamic limitations alone are concerned, a spathic polarizer having a transmittance of about 99% is possible.

The quantitative results are based on Planck’s thermodynamic theory of heat radiation.

R. CLARK JONES, "Ultimate Performance of Polarizers for Visible Light," J. Opt. Soc. Am. 52, 747-750 (1962)

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  1. M. Planck, Vorlesungen üiber die Theorie der Wärmestrahlung (Johann Ambrosius Barth, Leipzig, 1913), 2nd ed.
  2. M. Planck, The Theory of Heat Radiation (P. Blackiston's Son and Company, Philadelphia, 1914; Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1959). Translation of reference 1 by M. Masius.
  3. J. K. Roberts, Heat and Thermodynamics (Blackie and Son Limited, London, 1933), 2nd ed., p. 396.
  4. Reference 3, p. 393.
  5. M. W. Zemansky, Heat and Thermodynamics (McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York, 1951), 3rd ed. p. 192.

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