Polarization is a fundamental property of light. While many optical applications are based on systems that are “blind” to polarization, a very large number are not. Some applications rely directly on polarization as a key measurement variable, such as those based on how much an object depolarizes or rotates a polarized probe beam. For other applications, variations due to polarization are a source of noise, and thus throughout the system light must maintain a fixed state of polarization – or remain completely depolarized – to eliminate these variations. And for applications based on interference of non-parallel light beams, polarization greatly impacts contrast. As a result, for a large number of applications control of polarization is just as critical as control of ray propagation, diffraction, or the spectrum of the light. Yet despite its importance, polarization is often considered a more esoteric property of light that is not so well understood. ...
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