How does polarization show the wave nature of light?

  • #1
flintstones
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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.)




 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
phinds
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"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.
 
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