The Mystery of the Birefringent Butterfly

Russell Chipman and Alba Peinado

The crown jewel of a collection of classroom materials at the University of Arizona’s College of Optical Sciences is a transparent butterfly slide that bursts into color when viewed through cross polarizers. Who is responsible for this striking work of art?


figureThe birefringent work of art “Gypsum figure,” as viewed between crossed linear polarizers.

Light polarization and birefringence, or double refraction, are often used to create beautiful works of art. The colorful butterfly, shown on the opening page between crossed polarizers, is a good example. It is a piece of historic birefringent art named Gips-bild (or Gypsum figure in English).

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