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The Photonics Spotlight

Conflicting Definitions of s and p Polarization

Dr. Rüdiger Paschotta

It is quite common to talk about s-polarized and p-polarized laser beams, incident on optical surfaces or diffraction gratings. Therefore, it is quite disturbing that there are conflicting definitions in the scientific literature:

So there is another trap to fall into! When reading some paper, we have to find out which definition has been used.

By the way, some people call a laser beam s-polarized, when its polarization is vertical, i.e., perpendicular to the lab's floor. It is better, though, to restrict the terms s polarization and p polarization to cases where the polarization direction with respect to a plane of incidence is relevant. For example, if you have a Brewster-angled prism in the common orientation where the reflected beam stays horizontal in direction, s polarization according to the first definition above is vertical. However, if you turn the prism such that the reflected beam goes upwards, that will change, of course.

This article is a posting of the Photonics Spotlight, authored by Dr. Rüdiger Paschotta. You may link to this page, because its location is permanent. See also the Encyclopedia of Laser Physics and Technology.

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