Fundamental Concepts in Polarized Light Microscopy

Polarized light is a contrast-enhancing technique that improves the quality of the image obtained with birefringent materials when compared to other techniques such as darkfield and brightfield, differential interference contrast, phase contrast, Hoffman modulation contrast, and fluorescence. Polarized light microscopes have a high degree of sensitivity and can be utilized for both quantitative and qualitative studies targeted at a wide range of anisotropic specimens. Qualitative polarizing microscopy is very popular in practice, with numerous volumes dedicated to the subject. In contrast, the quantitative aspects of polarized light microscopy, which is primarily employed in crystallography, represent a far more difficult subject that is usually restricted to geologists, mineralogists, and chemists. However, steady advances made over the past few years have enabled biologists to study the birefringent character of many anisotropic sub-cellular assemblies.
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Contributing Authors

Philip C. Robinson - Department of Ceramic Technology, Staffordshire Polytechnic, College Road, Stroke-on-Trent, ST4 2DE United Kingdom.

Douglas B. Murphy - Department of Cell Biology and Microscope Facility, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 725 N. Wolfe Street, 107 WBSB, Baltimore, Maryland 21205.

Kenneth R. Spring - Scientific Consultant, Lusby, Maryland, 20657.

Thomas J. Fellers, Matthew J. Parry-Hill, Brian O. Flynn, and Michael W. Davidson - National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, 1800 East Paul Dirac Dr., The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, 32310.