How does polarization show the wave nature of light?

In summary, light polarization, as shown in the curriculum, explains that light is a transverse wave by considering the electric field vibration direction. Some students may argue that polarization disproves light being a particle due to the nature of its vibration direction, but this is not entirely valid as light exhibits both wave and particle characteristics. The concept of wave-particle duality is often used to explain polarization at a higher level, but it is not necessary for students to understand at this level.
  • #1
flintstones
20
1
Homework Statement
How does polarization show the wave nature of light?
Relevant Equations
No equations - theoretical only
I'm a high school teacher. In the curriculum, students are required to explain that polarization of light shows that light is a transverse wave.

My answer: In order to explain polarization, we have to consider the electric field vibration direction. For example, on a wave that propagates forward, the electric field may vibrate horizontally. Then a polarizing filter with its axis held horizontally will allow the light to pass through the filter unchanged. It only makes sense to talk about horizontal or vertical vibration direction for things like transverse waves.

My second question is: does polarization say ANYTHING about the particle nature of light? I had some students say that polarization shows that light must NOT be a particle, because particles don't vibrate horizontally or vertically as they move forward. Is this even valid? I have a feeling polarization shows that light is a wave, but doesn't DISPROVE it being a particle.

(I'm aware that you can use wave-particle duality to explain polarization in higher levels of physics, however, my students are not expected to know that; nor are they expected to get into quantum mechanics stuff.)

 
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  • #2
"Wave-particle duality" is a term that has been deprecated in science for about 100 years. It persists in pop-sci presentations but that does not make it helpful. Light is NOT "particles" or "waves", but rather photons are quantum objects. If you measure them for wave characteristics, you see wave characteristics and if you measure them for particle characteristics, you see particle characteristics. To they extent that they are particles at all they are not classical particles but quantum particles.
 
  • Informative
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1. What is polarization in regards to light?

Polarization refers to the orientation of the electric field of a light wave. Light waves can be polarized in different directions, either vertically, horizontally, or at any angle in between.

2. How does polarization demonstrate the wave nature of light?

Polarization shows the wave nature of light because it is a characteristic of transverse waves, which are waves that oscillate perpendicular to the direction of their propagation. This is similar to other waves, such as ocean waves or sound waves.

3. Can all types of light be polarized?

Yes, all types of light can be polarized. This includes visible light, as well as other types of electromagnetic radiation such as radio waves, microwaves, and x-rays.

4. How is polarization used in everyday life?

Polarization is used in various applications, such as sunglasses, 3D glasses, LCD screens, and polarizing filters for cameras and other optical instruments. It is also used in communication systems, such as satellite and wireless communication.

5. How does polarization affect the intensity of light?

When light is polarized, the intensity of the light is reduced because the electric field is restricted to a specific orientation. This means that only a portion of the light wave's energy is able to pass through a polarizing filter, resulting in a decrease in intensity.

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