Elliptical Polarization of Light Waves

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This Demonstration shows the resultant polarization of light when there is a phase shift of between the - and -polarized components. The resultant light is elliptically polarized. Special cases of elliptical polarization are linear polarization, obtained for angles 0° and 180°, and circular polarization, obtained for angles 90° and 270°.

Contributed by: Lakshmi Manasa Abburi (January 2020)
Open content licensed under CC BY-NC-SA



Circularly polarized light has many applications, including spectroscopy, materials characterization and wireless communications. This Demonstration shows how the output polarization is modified by the phase difference imparted to the light upon reflection from the thin film substrate system.

This Demonstration is based on Mathematica lecture notes for ECE 504 offered by Prof. Jesse Wilson at Colorado State University. It was produced for ECE 504 Physical Optics (Instructor: Jesse Wilson), Electrical & Computer Engineering Department, Colorado State University.


[1] R. M. A. Azzam, "Linear-to-Circular Polarization Transformation upon Reflection by a Transparent Thin Film on a Transparent Substrate: Analytical Determination of Principal Angles and Principal Azimuths," Applied Optics, 57(32), 2018 pp. 9529–9532. doi:10.1364/AO.57.009529.

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