Differential Polarization Microscopy

  • William E. Mickols
Part of the Topics in Molecular and Structural Biology book series (TMSB)


Differential polarization microscopy is the name given to a group of microscopic techniques that create images using changes in the polarization of light or changes in the amount of polarized light (linear or circular) transmitted or scattered by an object. This will be made clearer by first examining several better-known microscopic techniques. The classical example of polarization microscopy is that based on detecting a change in linear polarization. Using various optical analyses, we can show that there are eight different optical transmission effects as well as an equal number of scattering effects that can be detected in this manner. Many different polarization effects can produce images in interference microscopy and this is also true of microscopic techniques based on any phase effects (phase shear, holography, true phase, etc.). These techniques all generate an image by ‘comparing’ two light beams. In the interference microscope this may be done when one beam has a different path from the imaging beam, or when both beams take slightly different paths through the object, as is done in phase microscopy. The comparison of two beams always means that changes in the polarization of the light will change the interference between two beams. This effect generally decreases the measured intensity or contrast in these techniques. Many of these effects will be obvious to many readers but they are the reason for the complex optical analysis we have used to separate these many optical effects.


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© The Macmillan Press Ltd 1991

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  • William E. Mickols

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