Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/69

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57
SUNLIGHT, SEA, AND SKY.

produce waves advancing in another will be familiar to all of you who have watched the movement of a cork floating on the sea. You will have noticed that the cork has simply moved up and down, or nearly so, while the waves have passed, as it were, under it, along the surface of the water.

Now, in order to make clearer to our minds how this wave-motion is produced, I will throw the electric light upon a machine devised for the purpose. You now see a horizontal row of knobs. As the slider is pushed in, the knobs at one end begin to rise in succession until each has in turn attained its greatest elevation. Immediately after reaching its highest position it begins to descend; so that the knobs first rise and then fall in regular succession, and continue to rise and fall in the same manner so long as the motion is continued. Each of the knobs, beginning from number one, is thus successively at the highest position, while at the same moment those immediately before and behind it are at lower positions. And as the knob which is at the highest position represents what we call the crest of the wave, the crest will pass successively along all the knobs, beginning from the first. Thus the waves are transmitted along the line, while the vibrations take place across it. If the line of knobs represent the direction of a ray, their motions will represent the vibrations and waves to which the light is supposed to be due. In ordinary light these vibrations may take place in any directions perpendicular to the ray; and the effect of the crystal of which the Nicol is made, is to restrict these vibrations to a particular direction. In the arrangement now before you the first Nicol causes the vibrations to be altogether horizontal. When the second Nicol is placed similarly to the first, it will obviously have no further effect upon the light; but if it be turned through an angle, it will transmit only vibrations inclined to the horizontal at that angle; that is, only such part of the original horizontal vibrations as can be brought into the inclined direction; in other words, it will transmit only part of the light. And as the inclination is increased the part of the light transmitted will diminish, until, when the second Nicol is in a position to transmit only vertical vibrations (i. e., when it has turned through a right angle), the light will vanish. Such is an explanation of this fundamental experiment in polarization on the principle of what is called the Wave Theory of Light; and I have ventured to give it in some detail, because it is the key to all others, and forms a starting-point for any who may desire to go further in the subject; and it is a remarkable feature in this Wave Theory of Light that the results of many other experimental combinations, to some of which we will now proceed, might be predicted upon the principles already laid down.

If a plate of crystal, such as selenite, be placed between the two Nicols, and turned round in its own plane, it will be found that in certain positions at right angles to one another no effect is produced. These may be called neutral positions. In all other positions the field