# It’s Not All Black and White

Incredible art piece dances with polarized light

There’s a video in the link with the art, which is a weird combination of kinetic sculpture and optical effects from polarizers. You don’t discern the actual motion of the polarizers, but you see a motional effect from the overlap. Sort of an opto-kinetic sculpture.

One thing:

Polarizers are pieces of plastic made to only allow (or disallow) the transmission of light with certain polarizations. Natural light has a mixture of all different polarizations of light, and so any one of these polarizers only filters out a portion of the light. However, if you stack two with complementary polarizations, such as one that blocks about 50% of light and another that blocks the other 50% of light, then you end up with a totally opaque whole.

To quote a phrase: that’s not how this works! That’s not how any of this works! Simple filters don’t add linearly (they multiply — two simple 50% filters would block 75% of the light), and polarizers don’t block half each. What’s actually going on is that one polarizer sets the polarization of the light (filtering the fraction that is cross-polarized), and then the second one blocks more light, both acting according to the Law of Malus

$$I=I_0 \cos^2 \theta$$

All the light is blocked for perpendicular orientations of the polarizers, and at varying levels of light at other angles. Randomly polarized light isn’t blocked by 50% — the transmitted intensity is roughly 75%. You can see single polarizers in the video, and tell they aren’t blocked by half.

The second piece is in color but only has a still shot, so I don’t know if this is color filters or polarization with birefringent materials. I’ve posted static shots of birefringent materials before, both using a static linearly polarized source (LCD); having the background and/or foreground polarization and birefringent material move might make for an interesting display.