Polarization (waves)

From Ascension Glossary

Polarization (waves) (also polarisation) is a property of waves that can oscillate with more than one orientation. Electromagnetic waves EMF such as light exhibit polarization, as do some other types of wave, such as gravitational waves. Sound waves in a gas or liquid do not exhibit polarization, since the Oscillation is always in the direction the wave travels.

In an electromagnetic wave, both the electric field and magnetic field are oscillating but in different directions; by convention the "polarization" of light refers to the polarization of the electric field. Light which can be approximated as a plane wave in free space or in an Isotropic medium propagates as a transverse wave—both the electric and magnetic fields are perpendicular to the wave's direction of travel. The Oscillation of these fields may be in a single direction (linear polarization), or the field may rotate at the optical frequency (circular or elliptical polarization). In that case the direction of the fields' rotation, and thus the specified polarization, may be either clockwise or counter clockwise; this is referred to as the wave's chirality or handedness.

The most common optical materials (such as glass) are isotropic and simply preserve the polarization of a wave but do not differentiate between polarization states. However there are important classes of materials classified as birefringent or optically active in which this is not the case and a wave's polarization will generally be modified or will affect propagation through it. A polarizer is an optical filter that transmits only one polarization.

Polarization is an important parameter in areas of science dealing with transverse wave propagation, such as optics, seismology, radio, and microwaves. Especially impacted are technologies such as lasers, wireless and optical fiber telecommunications, and radar.[1]


See Also

CCW Female

CW Male

Polarization Senses