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March 1957

An Explanation of Haidinger's Brushes

Author Affiliations

Uppsala, Sweden
From the Ophthalmic Clinic, University of Uppsala (Head, Prof. G. Bahr).

AMA Arch Ophthalmol. 1957;57(3):393-399. doi:10.1001/archopht.1957.00930050405011

The human eye is a most efficient instrument for detecting light and analyzing certain of its properties. Differences of intensity and of wavelength and the spatial distribution of primary or secondary sources of light are perceived with great precision, but one important quality of light, its plane of vibration, is perceptible only with difficulty and under especially favorable circumstances.

We have reasons to believe (von Frisch1 that in this respect the eyes of bees are superior to the human eye.

The first to observe that the polarization of light is visible without auxiliary means was the mineralogist W. von Haidinger2 (1844). He described as Lichtpolarisations-büschel the phenomenon which was later to become known as Haidinger's brushes.

Haidinger's brushes are best seen by looking through a polarizer at the clouded sky or some other uniform white surface. The phenomenon vanishes by local adaptation after a few seconds of observation.

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