Whenever I teach my polarization optics course, one of the central messages I try to get across early is that polarization of light abounds with dichotomies. This has been known for more than three centuries, and there is no question that it has generated a considerable amount of excitement among researchers in the last decades. It is an aspect of the visual world detected by insects and many vertebrates other than mammals but is hidden from us, its origins rooted deep in statistical physics and electromagnetism. Its applications involve areas as diverse as photonics, information technology, and biology, yet its understanding is still incomplete. Before starting to consider the details of the theory of polarized light, I would like to draw the reader’s attention to a brief consideration of the historical background to illustrate that Emil Wolf is a most influential and contemporary theoretical physicist in the development of polarization optics.
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