What are Polarimeters?

The analytical hardware components — polarimeters — are used for determining the polarization of light and examining the optical activity of chemical substances. Optical activity is a material’s ability to rotate polarized light beams and the extent to which such a phenomenon takes place.


For more than two centuries, the polarization of light has been traditionally manipulated through optical filters or prisms, and even now, these proven principles are being extensively used in contemporary polarimeters. The instrumentation usually includes an incident light source that is guided through a polarizing prism, which, in turn, transmits light waves that merely fluctuate across one plane.

Before reaching a second prism, the polarized beams travel through a sample tube that can be loaded with various chemical solutions. An observer can look at the light transmitted via this analyzing prism and establish whether the sample has actually rotated the light from the polarity predetermined by the first prism.

Teaching with Polarimeters

Polarimeters have already been shown to play a key role in the historical understanding of isomer arrangements and for measuring the concentration levels of solid solutions, for example, glucose. As such, these instruments can be applied to various research and academic studies.

In academic environments, contemporary polarimeters are used to show the optical activity to students in practice, with emphasis on teaching stereochemistry modules. With the help of quartz materials, optical rotation was initially observed; however, interpreting the optical properties of crystalline structures quickly resulted in a better understanding of sugar concentrations and biological isomers in samples. This information helped in gaining a better understanding of three-dimensional molecular structures.

Such polarimeters eliminate the necessity for rigorous levels of accuracy that are otherwise needed for industrial chemistry applications. These are mainly concerned with longevity through strong designs and robust materials to guarantee ease of use for novice observers.

Specifically developed by keeping such applications in mind, the Glas-Col polarimeter includes a low-cost incandescent light and an array that can offer a 1° precision. The system can be applied to qualitatively view the optical rotation in classroom settings, and this can be done by manually aligning the filters to reduce the amount of light transmitted to an observer — before loading a sugar solution in the sample chamber and directly viewing the optical rotation. The system is also prepared to execute quantitative analysis of optical activity for stereoisomers and isomers in varied solutions.

Polarimeters from Glas-Col

Glas-Col specializes in providing laboratory equipment for various research, academic, and industrial research applications. The company offers a robust choice of instrumentation for particular experiments or processes, including dedicated vertical polarimeters that include both front- and side-lighting components.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Glas-Col.

For more information on this source, please visit Glas-Col.


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