Polarized light microscopy: principles and practice. Academic Article uri icon


  • Polarized light microscopy provides unique opportunities for analyzing the molecular order in heterogeneous systems, such as living cells and tissues, without using exogenous dyes or labels. This article briefly discusses the theory of polarized light microscopy and elaborates on its practice using a traditional polarized light microscope and more specialized polarization microscopes such as the LC-PolScope, Oosight, or Abrio. The microscope components specific to analyzing the polarization of light, such as polarizer and compensator, are introduced, and quantitative techniques for measuring the birefringence of the specimen point by point using a traditional polarizing microscope are discussed. The new LC-PolScope greatly improves the analytic power of the technique, providing quantitative birefringence data simultaneously for every image point, thereby revealing molecular order with unprecedented sensitivity and at the highest resolution of the light microscope. Practical aspects discussed include the choice of optics, sample preparation, and combining polarized light with differential interference contrast and fluorescence microscopy. A glossary of polarization optical terms is also included to facilitate the discussion of observations made with a polarized light microscope.

publication date

  • November 1, 2013