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Photonics Dictionary

polarization

With respect to light radiation, the restriction of the vibrations of the magnetic or electric field vector to a single plane. In a beam of electromagnetic radiation, the polarization direction is the direction of the electric field vector (with no distinction between positive and negative as the field oscillates back and forth). The polarization vector is always in the plane at right angles to the beam direction. Near some given stationary point in space the polarization direction in the beam can vary at random (unpolarized beam), can remain constant (plane-polarized beam), or can have two coherent plane-polarized elements whose polarization directions make a right angle. In the latter case, depending on the amplitude of the two waves and their relative phase, the combined electric vector traces out an ellipse and the wave is said to be elliptically polarized. Elliptical and plane polarizations can be converted into each other by means of birefringent optical systems.
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