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Prelab: Polarization and Malus Law

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Draw a flowchart of the procedure for this experiment. The flowchart should show the relevant steps
and precautions for the experiment. It must be concise, but it must also be complete. Make sure that
the flowchart is neat and easy to read. If necessary, you may use additional sheets of paper for the
flowchart and attach them to this sheet before submission.

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Experiment 9
Polarization and Malus Law
Objectives
By the end of this activity, you should be able to:
differentiate polarized and unpolarized light sources

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measure the change in light intensity passing through polarizers for various angles between the
axes of the polarizers
plot the intensity as a function of the angle between the axes of the polarizers and compare it to
Malus law
identify polarization as evidence that electromagnetic waves, exemplified by light, are transverse
waves

Introduction

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Polarization is a characteristic of all transverse waves including electromagnetic (EM) waves. It is a


description of the direction of oscillation of the wave. For EM waves, the polarization is defined to be
the direction of the electric field vector and not the magnetic field vector. Knowledge regarding the
orientation of either the electric field or the magnetic field, together with the direction of propagation
essentially specifies the orientation of the other. The direction of the electric field vector is chosen
because most EM wave detectors, including the human eye, are designed to respond to electric fields.
Sunglasses, liquid crystal displays (LCDs), imaging devices and telecommunications technology all make
use of the concept of polarization.

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Ordinary light sources such as light bulbs and fluorescent lamps produce randomly polarized light.
That is, the electric field components of the electromagnetic waves they produce have different orientations. Linear polarizers or filters only allow light of a particular polarization, called the polarizing axis,
to pass through. If randomly polarized light is incident upon a polarizer, the transmitted light would be
polarized along the polarizing axis of the filter thereby reducing the intensity of the transmitted light.
Linearly polarized light incident upon a linear polarizer will behave according to Malus law. In this
experiment, the polarization of plain and laser light sources, and their observance of Malus law, will
be investigated.

Theory
Light is an electromagnetic wave composed of oscillating electric and magnetic fields. Being a transverse
wave, the electric field, magnetic field and the direction of propagation are mutually perpendicular as
illustrated in Figure 1. Polarization is a description of the direction of oscillation of a transverse wave.
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~
~
Figure 1. Electromagnetic wave composed of oscillating E-field
and B-field
that are perpendicular to the direction of
wave propagation.

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As previously discussed, the polarization of EM waves is defined as the direction of the electric field
vector. EM waves can have different types of polarization. Of particular interest in this experiment is
when the electric field vector is restricted to oscillate along a single plane. This type of polarization is
called linear polarization.

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A beam of light from an ordinary source consists of several EM waves that may have different
orientations. Light composed of EM waves linearly polarized along all possible transverse directions,
as shown in Figure 2, is called randomly polarized, unpolarized or natural light. Polarized light can be
produced from unpolarized light using several methods such as absorption, reflection, double refraction
or birefringence, and scattering. This activity will explore polarization by absorption.

Figure 2. Vector diagram of unpolarized light

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Polarization of visible light by absorption entails using devices called polarizing filters or simply
polarizers. Polarizers transmit light polarized parallel along a particular directioncalled the polarizing
or transmission axiswhile absorbing all other components with different polarizations. Light, whether
polarized or unpolarized, that emerges from a polarizer therefore becomes linearly polarized (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Schematic diagram of the polarization process

Polarized light incident upon a polarizer will be transmitted only if it has a component that is
parallel to the transmission axis of the polarizer. Such is the case when unpolarized light is incident
upon two polarizers (Figure 4). Linearly polarized light will have an electric field vector oscillating
along a particular axis. If this is incident upon a polarizer, only the electric field component Etrans
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Figure 4. Polarization using two polarizers

parallel to the transmission axis, given by

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Etrans = E0 cos ,

(1)

where E0 is the amplitude of the incident electric field and is the angle between the polarization
of the incident light and the transmission axis, will be transmitted and all other components will be
absorbed. Since the intensity of light is proportional to the square of its amplitude, the intensity of the
transmitted light Itrans is related to the intensity of the incident light I0 by
2
Itrans = kEtrans
= k(E02 cos2 ) = I0 cos2 ,

(2)

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where k is a constant of proportionality. Equation (2) was discovered by Etienne Louis Malus and is
commonly referred to as Malus Law.

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Materials
Diode laser
Plain light source
Optical bench
2 polarizers
2 component mounts
LabQuest 2

Procedure
WARNING:

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Light sensor

Do not look directly into the laser beam.


Maintain the same ambient lighting conditions throughout the experiment by keeping unnecessary
light sources e.g., gadget backlight and reflective surfaces, away from the setup.

A. Polarization of light sources

1. Position the laser at one end of the optical bench and place a polarizer in front of it such that
the side of the polarizer with angular divisions is facing the laser. The 0 angle must be along the
vertical.

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2. Turn on LabQuest and connect the light sensor to any of its analog channels. Go to the Meter
Screen
of LabQuest and tap the Duration field to change the data collection time from 0 s up
then check if the graph of intensity (in lux) versus time (in
to 5 s. Go to the Graph Screen
seconds) has the correct duration of data collection. Switch the sensitivity of the light sensor to
6000 lux using the toggle on the sensor itself.
3. Turn on the laser then align it such that its beam hits near the center of the polarizer.

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4. Position the light sensor at a fixed distance behind the polarizer making sure that the transmitted
beam hits the center of the light sensor.
5. Cover the beam with a thick opaque sheet of material e.g., cardboard or plastic card. Zero out the
then selecting Zero after tapping the meter
light sensor reading by going to the Meter Screen
display or the Sensors menu. This step essentially accounts for ambient light and eliminates the
need to perform background subtraction. Perform this step before every intensity measurement.

6. Remove the cover then record the intensity as a function of time by pressing the Play
button. Data collection will automatically stop after the set observation duration.
7. Tap and drag across the relevant region of the graph. In the Analyze menu, go to Statistics
then select Mean. Record the mean of the intensity data as the intensity value for that angle.
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8. Perform the measurement for all other angles indicated in Table W1 by rotating the polarizer
without changing the position of the components on the optical bench.
9. Switch the setting of the light sensor to 600 lux then repeat the procedures above using the plain
light source. Record all measurements in Table W1
10. Plot the intensity of transmitted light as a function of for the laser and plain light source on
Figure W1. You may use different scales for the two sets of data to show the relevant features of
each.

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B. Investigating Malus Law


1. Modify the set-up in the previous part by placing a second polarizer (analyzer) in between the
light sensor and the first polarizer. Make sure you use the appropriate setting for the light sensor
(600 lux for plain light source and 6000 lux for the laser).
2. Rotate the polarizer and the analyzer to the angle corresponding to the maximum intensity
recorded in part A then record the mean intensity as Iexp .
3. While keeping the polarizer at the same orientation, rotate the analyzer in increments of 30 .
Record the intensities for each relative angle in Table W2.
4. Find the minimum and maximum values of intensity in Table W2 then record them as Imin and
Imax , respectively.

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5. Calculate cos2 for each angle between the polarizer and analyzer used, then record them as
[I()/Imax ]theo .
6. Accomplish Figure W2 and Figure W3 by plotting Iexp /Imax and [I()/Imax ]theo as functions of
on the same graph.

References

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Tipler, P., Physics for Scientists and Engineers, 4th ed., W.H. Freeman & Co. USA (1999).
Gastineau, J., Appel, K., Bakken, C., R. Sorensen, and Vernier, D.L., Physics With Computers,
2nd ed. Vernier Software & Technology. Beaverton, OR (2000).
Young, H., University Physics, 12th ed., Addison-Wesley Publishing Co. USA (2008).

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Worksheet: Polarization and Malus Law


A. Data Summary
Table W1. Intensity of polarized light (one polarizer)
( )

Plain light source

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Laser diode

0
30
60
90
120
150
180
210
240
270

330
360

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300

Laser diode

I (lux)

Minimum

( )

Plain light source


I (lux)

( )

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Maximum

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( )

I()
Imax

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Table W2. Intensity of polarized light (two polarizers)
Laser diode


theo

Iexp (lux)

Plain light source


Iexp /Imax

Iexp (lux)

Iexp /Imax

0
30
60
90
120
150

210
240
270
300
330
360
Imin

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Imax

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180

Figure W1. Intensity as a function of polarizer angle for the laser diode and plain light source

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Figure W2. I()/Imax vs angle between polarizer and analyzer for the laser diode

Figure W3. I()/Imax vs angle between polarizer and analyzer for the plain light source

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B. Questions
1. Does the diode laser produce linearly polarized light? What about the plain light source? Use
Figure W1 to support your answer.

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2. Is Malus Law obeyed for both laser diode and plain light source? Why or why not?

3. Does the intensity of the light source determine whether Malus Law is obeyed or not? How is
this supported by Figures W2 and W3?

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4. How do your results prove the transverse nature of EM waves?

5. Light with intensity I0 emitted by a plain light source is incident upon 2 ideal polarizers.

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a. If the intensity of the transmitted light is Itrans =
what can you conclude regarding the
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orientation of the polarizers?

b. When a 3rd polarizer is placed in between the first two, no light is transmitted. What can you
conclude regarding the orientation of the polarizers?

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