Polarisation of EM waves

Linear and circular polarisation • We have seen in an EM wave the electric field (E) is the most important and this defines the polarisation of the wave • E and B fields are both travelling waves, each oscillating in perpendicular planes to each other and in phase with each other E


An observer looking along Poynting’s Vector (S) would see E and B varying in time

In (and after) the material the E of all of the light is aligned in one direction This is known as linearly polarised light Recall that a vector can be resolved into perpendicular components in any basis. that is a polarising material (e. • If the EM wave travels though a medium that only allows E to oscillate in one direction. then B is perpendicular to both. Polaroid). Hence the E field in the wave can be thought of as the sum of two different E fields that are perpendicular E E 1 E 2 This means the EM wave can also be considered as being the sum of two in-phase waves with different polarisations . • In general E can be at any position perpendicular to the direction of travel the wave.The E and B fields are both maximal then both zero simultaneously.g.

This means the two perpendicular components of E travel at different speeds. NOTE: In Polaroid one component is completely absorbed.Optically active materials In some special materials the speed of light is different along different directions of travel in the crystal lattice. so will become out of phase. Such a slab is a ¼ wave plate After passing though a ¼ wave plate: when one E component is maximal the other perpendicular to it zero and vice versa . Consider what happens if we make a thin slab of such an optically active material exactly thick enough that one component of the light wave lags the other by ¼ wavelengths when the light exits from the slab. so produces only linearly polarised light.

The resulting wave made by combining the two vectors is rotating in a circle. . 1935) that circularly polarised light carries angular momentum (as well as energy and linear momentum p = E/c) If the two amplitude of the two waves are unequal the light is elliptically polarised. This is known as circularly polarised light Depending on the relative phase of the two components the E vector can rotate in either direction known as leftor right-circularly polarised light.A. It is known by experiment (R. Beth.Circularly Polarised light Time E1 E 2 As time goes on for a wave passing after passing though a ¼ wave plate the two components of the E field will be oscillating as above.

and the photon spins point in the opposite to the direction of motion. which means an angular momentum of . Angular momentum is a vector quantity.and right-polarised. In circularly polarised light the angular momentum of each photon points in one direction only. In a beam of linearly polarised light the photons are an equal mixture of left. No other choice is allowed as the photon is massless. . In right-circularly polarised light the E vector apparently rotates clockwise looking towards the source.Polarisation of photons At the quantum level light is made of photons. In a photon the spin can point either along the direction of travel or against it. There is no net angular momentum carried by this type of polarised light. photons have an intrinsic spin of 1. the photon spins point in the direction of motion. In optics the name left-circularly polarised light is given to light with an apparent anti-clockwise sweep of the E vector when looking towards the source.

1. so reverse the definitions! [See HECHT section 8. Radio engineers also look away from the source when defining clockwise and anti-clockwise.5] The importance of this is that one can make beams of photons with all of the spins pointing in one direction.Notes: In particle physics the naming convention is reversed! A left-handed particle has its spin in the opposite direction to the direction of motion. A Y3 Physics Lab experiment (Optical pumping) uses this technique. .

Polarisation by reflection When light is reflected from a dielectric surface we want to look at the polarisation of the reflected and transmitted waves.3. . take ni as the general case and nt in the glass. n=1 in the air.2 Assume B is parallel to the plane of incidence. Take light reflecting from glass. See Hecht section 4.

all B fields are parallel to the surface: Bi + Br = Bt [6.16] . parallel to the surface.Assume linearly polarised light with: B fields all point into the page.14] The E field is also continuous so looking parallel to the surface: − Ei cos θ i + Er cos θ r = − Et cos θt [6. E fields are perpendicular to the B field and the direction of the wave. k is the direction of travel of the waves (also direction of Poynting vector) At the surface the electric field is continuous (from [4.1]).15] Remember that E=B(c/n) from Maxwell’s equations (assuming the relative permeability of both materials are ~ 1) from [6.14]: ni Ei + nr Er = nt Et [6.

Note: the amplitude of the reflected wave will be zero when nt cos θi = ni cos θt n sin θ i Using Snell’s law : t = .15] and [6. [6.18] .17] This is the amplitude reflection coefficient for the case that E is in the incident plane.16] we get: n cosθ i − ni cosθ t E R= r = t Ei nt cosθ i + ni cosθ t [6. we can obtain the ni sin θ t condition for no reflection just in terms of the angles: sin θ i cos θ i = cos θ t sin θ t This has the solution : θ i + θ t = π / 2 This is the Brewster condition Note the reflection vanishes when its Poynting vector would be parallel to the electric field of the transmitted wave.Also using θi = θr with [6.

When the E field in the other material is parallel to the direction the reflected wave would propagate in the amplitude goes to zero ( E ⋅ S = 0 ). so the transmission efficiency is 100%. Using Snell’s law again we can show the Brewster Angle. .Brewster condition When a wave is reflected the reflected wave is caused by re-radiation from the wave in the other material. the angle for which there is no reflection for light polarised perpendicular to the plane of the surface: n tan θ B = t ni Remember energy transmitted is (1-R2) = 1 at the Brewster angle.

5 1 1 0 θ π 2 n − ni . R = t nt + ni incidence θi = π/2.Plot of R against θ for perpendicularly polarised light: 1 1 0.5 r( θ ) 0 0. at glancing At normal incidence θi = 0. R = −1 .

so R⊥ > 0 . This reflected amplitude coefficient is always negative. called the transverse polarisation. we find another amplitude coefficient. with the E vector parallel to the surface of the material.3. glass or water) is partially polarised.Case of E transverse to plane of reflection In the other orientation. In general light reflected from a dielectric surface (e. .2: n cosθ i − nt cosθ t R⊥ = i ni cosθ i + nt cosθ t NOTE: ni and nt have been reversed compared to the other polarisation [6.17].g. So waves reflected at the Brewster angle are 100% transverse polarised. See for example Hecht section 4.

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