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Optical phenomenon / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Birefringence is the optical property of a material having a refractive index that depends on the polarization and propagation direction of light.[1] These optically anisotropic materials are said to be birefringent (or birefractive). The birefringence is often quantified as the maximum difference between refractive indices exhibited by the material. Crystals with non-cubic crystal structures are often birefringent, as are plastics under mechanical stress.

A calcite crystal laid upon a graph paper with blue lines showing the double refraction
In this example, optic axis along the surface is shown perpendicular to plane of incidence. Incoming light in the s polarization (which means perpendicular to plane of incidence - and so in this example becomes "parallel polarisation" to optic axis, thus is called extraordinary ray) sees a greater refractive index than light in the p polarization (which becomes ordinary ray because "perpendicular polarisation" to optic axis) and so s polarization ray is undergoing greater refraction on entering and exiting the crystal.

Birefringence is responsible for the phenomenon of double refraction whereby a ray of light, when incident upon a birefringent material, is split by polarization into two rays taking slightly different paths. This effect was first described by Danish scientist Rasmus Bartholin in 1669, who observed it[2] in calcite crystals which have one of the strongest birefringences. In the 19th century Augustin-Jean Fresnel described the phenomenon in terms of polarization, understanding light as a wave with field components in transverse polarization (perpendicular to the direction of the wave vector).[3][4] Birefringence plays an important role in achieving phase-matching for a number of nonlinear optical processes.