Kent Christmas Lecture for Schools: Polar explorations in light

27 November 2012

Polar Explorations – In Light was the talk by Professor David Pye, Queen Mary, University of London on 26th November the Gulbenkian Theatre of the University of Kent.

IOP Member and Professor David Pye

Just because we cannot see whether light is polarised or not, we often think of it as a rather obscure phenomenon, yet most natural light is partially polarised.

Its properties are widely important in physics, geology and natural history, and they have many technical applications. All four ways in which light can become polarised will be demonstrated and their various practical applications will be explored.

The results are not only important, but are often extremely beautiful. They touch upon such diverse topics as how the Vikings navigated, how to make the most amazing kaleidoscope, how to take a photograph in a millionth of a second, how a flying water bug checks that it is really water before diving in, and the sunset at the Taj Mahal... and then there is the Cheshire Cat...

Professor Pye produced numerous demonstrations to illustrate examples of polarized light in all aspects of our everyday life. These can be observed with a one or two polaroid strips.

(A book derived from his lecture was published by the Institute of Physics Publishing in 2001 under the title ‘Polarised Light in Science and Nature’.)