Illustration 39.2: Polarized Electromagnetic Waves

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Light is composed of a traveling wave of changing electric and magnetic fields. Click on the link for a linear wave to see an example of the electric field component of an electromagnetic wave. Click-drag to the right or left to rotate about the z axis. Click-drag up or down to rotate in the xy plane. The wave in the animation is x polarized, which means that its electric field oscillates in the x direction.

Some materials, called polarizers, will only transmit light with its electric field in a particular direction. To see an example of a linear wave with a polarizer, click on the link linear wave with polarizer. In this example light that is xy polarized is passed through a polarizer that only transmits the component of the electric field in the x direction.

The circular wave link shows an example of a circularly polarized wave, and the circular wave with polarizer link shows the effect of an x-direction polarizer on this circular wave. Exploration 39.1 deals more extensively with circularly polarized light, while Exploration 39.2 discusses polarizers.

Illustration authored by Melissa Dancy.