Exploring Polarization in OPTI 586

    Date Posted: 
    Thursday, July 17, 2014

    Professor Russell A. Chipman encourages everyone with an interest in the intersection of polarization and optical systems to enroll in his course OPTI 586: Polarization in Optical Design and OPTI 586L, the associated lab taught by assistant research professor Gregory A. Smith.

    Close-up photo of a clear plastic cup under a polarized filter

    Stacey Sueoka, a Ph.D. student in Chipman's lab offers the following endorsement of the class, which delves into the practical applications of the concepts learned in OPTI 623: Polarized Light and Polarimetry.

    People in the field of polarimetry will learn imperative skills on how to properly design or assess a polarization sensitive optical system. I think they will enjoy the diversity of polarization components and systems examined in this course: crystal polarizers, electro-optic modulators, retarders, liquid crystals, polarimeters, telescopes, to name a few.

    It's also good for people with no interest in polarimetry because many are unaware of adverse polarization effects (polarization aberrations) that often plague optical systems. Also, optimal polarization configurations can drastically change a system's performance.

    Is it useful for people outside optical engineering? Yes, I believe it is. I think it may be a bit difficult for someone outside of optical engineering, but I think it is important for those who use optical instrumentation directly or indirectly to understand its advantages, disadvantages and limitations.

    There was a very interesting assignment regarding rainbow polarization. Many people wouldn't know it (outside of the optics community of course), but rainbows are polarized. If you take polarized sunglasses, and look at a rainbow (perfect timing it's monsoon season!), you will notice the middle/top of the rainbow will disappear. Tilt your head left and right and you will see the part of the rainbow that is parallel to your eyes will disappear. This assignment had us calculate the angle of the rainbow, fraction of transmitted light, degree of polarization and the polarization orientation. I really love that we have such a beautiful part of nature because of polarization!

    Off campus? You're in luck! OPTI 586 is also available as a distance course.