Definition of Nicol prism in US English:

Nicol prism


  • A device for producing plane-polarized light, consisting of two pieces of optically clear calcite or Iceland spar cemented together with Canada balsam in the shape of a prism.

    • ‘Below the stage is a mirror to reflect light up through the specimen and a Nicol prism can be swung in to polarise the light.’
    • ‘The Nicol prism, which is made entirely of calcite, a doubly refracting mineral, isolates one beam cleanly.’
    • ‘It is also used in optical instrument such as polarizing microscopes and Nicol prisms.’
    • ‘The Nicol prism has two birefringent prisms and, attached together by a transparent adhesive substance such as Canada Balsam cement, which forms the polarizing interface.’
    • ‘By placing a substance between two Nicol prisms and rotating one, the angle of optical rotation could be easily measured.’
    • ‘Today, Nicol prisms are still very expensive, bulky and of limited aperture.’
    • ‘The light is admitted into the far end of the instrument and is polarized by passing through a Nicol prism.’
    • ‘A simple mounting consisting of a Nicol prism in a brass holder was found with the instrument and now serves as the polarizer.’
    • ‘Late 19th century developments in optics and in optical techniques employing Nicol prisms were numerous, including petrographic microscopes; scattering of light; photoelasticity; optical properties of metals and thin films; electro-optic effects; and new magneto-optic effects including the Zeeman effect which promoted new understanding of light emission and atomic structure.’
    • ‘The result is a transparent birefringent crystal, known as a Nicol prism, which effective separates polarized light at the interface between the two crystal halves.’
    • ‘Although its significance went unrecognised at the time, the Nicol prism is now used in all polarising microscopes today.’
    • ‘In this sense, the Nicol prism performs an analysis of the light.’
    • ‘Polarization can be verified by rotating either the Nicol prism or the Polaroid, which is between the Nicol prism and the lens in the photograph.’
    • ‘The aluminum handle used to rotate the Nicol prism assembly is clearly not original.’
    • ‘The two beams, with two different planes of polarization, are then analyzed by another Nicol prism.’
    • ‘The Nicol prism is made up from two prisms of calcite cemented with Canada balsam.’


Mid 19th century: named after William Nicol (died 1851), the Scottish physicist who invented it.


Nicol prism

/ˈnikəl ˌprizəm/