The knowledge that light is polarized precedes the knowledge of the existence of the photon, see polarization of light for the classical point of view.
The polarization state and how it can be decomposed into different modes can be well visualized with the Poincaré sphere.
One key idea about photon polarization is that it carries angular momentum. Therefore, when an electron changes orbitals in the Schrödinger equation solution for the hydrogen atom, the angular momentum (as well as energy) change is carried out by the polarization of the photon!
Video 1. Quantum Mechanics 9b - Photon Spin and Schrodinger's Cat II by ViaScience (2013) Source.
  • clear animations showing how two circular polarizations can make a vertical polarization
  • a polarizer can be modelled bra operator.
  • light polarization experiments are extremely direct evidence of quantum superposition. Individual photons must be on both L and R states at the same time because a V filter passes half of either L or R single photons, but it passes all L + R photons
This section discusses the pre-photon understanding of the polarization of light. For the photon one see: photon polarization.
People were a bit confused when experiments started to show that light might be polarized. How could a wave that propages through a 3D homgenous material like luminiferous aether have polarization?? Light would presumably be understood to be analogous to a sound wave in 3D medium, which cannot have polarization. This was before Maxwell's equations, in the early 19th century, so there was no way to know.
A device that modifies photon polarization.
Particularly cool is to see how Fresnel fully understood that light is somehow polarized, even though he did not know that it was made out of electromagnetism, clear indication of which only came with the Faraday effect in 1845.
spie.org/publications/fg05_p03_maluss_law:
At the beginning of the nineteenth century the only known way to generate polarized light was with a calcite crystal. In 1808, using a calcite crystal, Malus discovered that natural incident light became polarized when it was reflected by a glass surface, and that the light reflected close to an angle of incidence of 57° could be extinguished when viewed through the crystal. He then proposed that natural light consisted of the s- and p-polarizations, which were perpendicular to each other.
Matches the quantum superposition probability proportional to the square law. Poor Étienne-Louis Malus, who died so much before this was found.

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