A new method of polarized light analysis is described in which a highly sensitive electronic detector specific for birefringence is used to identify the crystalline axes of an object and then measure its phase retardation due to birefringence. The microscopic system employed in the method consists of an electronic birefringence detection system (BDS), a microscope with strain-free lenses, and a driven stage for passing the specimen at appropriate velocities across the image of an aperture placed at the field stop and imaged in the specimen plane by the condenser. The detector registers retardations directly as voltage at a constant deflection sensitivity of ca. 1.1 v per angstrom unit over a range of 120 angstrom units. The basal rms noise level is 0.002 A for a spot 36 µ in diameter formed by a 95 x, N. A. 1.25 objective pair, and increases in proportion to the reciprocal of the diameter of the scanning spot. The increase in noise with high resolution scanning can be offset by increasing the instrumental time constant, which is adjustable in decades between 0.004 and 0.4 seconds. A number of difficult problems in high extinction polarization microscopy are avoided by the use of modulated light and a rapid electronic detector. For example: (a) The measured distribution of birefringence is unaffected by the usual diffraction anomaly; therefore polarization rectifiers are not required. (b) The detector is selective for birefringence, so that there is no problem in separating contrast due to different optical properties (e.g. dichroism, light scattering). (c) The speed and sensitivity are both increased by between one and two orders of magnitude over that attainable by visual or photographic methods, thereby rendering a vast number of weakly birefringent, light-scattering, and motile objects readily analyzable for the first time with polarized light.

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