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Polarized Light Microscopy

Polarized light microscopy is the use of optical microscopes with polarizers. One polarizer is placed above the sample and another beneath. The polarizers are placed so they are at right angles to each other. Ordinarily, this would not allow light to pass through. But if the sample if birefringent, the light is bent as it passes through the sample. This allows the light to pass through the second polarizer in such a way that a spectrum of color can be seen. Below you can see what various crystalized samples look like through a polarized microscope.

First select a sample from the pull-down menu. Use the slider to the rotate the sample. You can use the arrows to rotate the sample 10 degrees at a time.

Notice how the colors change as you rotate the sample. The various colors make it easier for scientists to see and study the structure of the crystals.

You can learn more about looking at crystals through a polarized microscope at our Birefringence in Crystals activity site.

To learn more about birefringence take a look at our Double Refraction Interactive Tutorial.

Contributing Authors

Mortimer Abramowitz - Olympus America, Inc., Two Corporate Center Drive., Melville, New York, 11747.

Matthew J. Parry-Hill and Michael W. Davidson - National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, 1800 East Paul Dirac Dr., The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, 32310.


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