Tables for
Volume D
Physical properties of crystals
Edited by A. Authier

International Tables for Crystallography (2013). Vol. D, ch. 1.6, p. 169

Section Dispersion

A. M. Glazera* and K. G. Coxb

aDepartment of Physics, University of Oxford, Parks Roads, Oxford OX1 3PU, England, and bDepartment of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, Parks Roads, Oxford OX1 3PR, England
Correspondence e-mail: Dispersion

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Dispersion, that is to say variation of refractive index depending on wavelength, is a common phenomenon in crystals, and occasionally an important aid in identification. In extreme cases, it results in the production of highly anomalous polarization colours, often browns, blue greys or brownish purples, or bright colours which just look slightly unusual compared with normal second- or third-order colours. Anomalous colours are highly diagnostic of certain substances (e.g. the minerals chlorite, zoisite and epidote).

Dispersion also results in a lack of definition of extinction positions, because in biaxial crystals there may effectively be differently oriented indicatrices for different wavelengths. In extreme cases, it may be impossible to locate the extinction position with any accuracy. As an example of a milder case, the very common mineral plagioclase (triclinic) shows subtle, though highly characteristic, features between crossed polars in sections cut approximately normal to the b crystallographic axis. The normal polarization colours seen in between the extinction positions are pure first-order greys and whites, but as a grain is rotated slowly through an extinction position the colours darken and take on a bluish (cold) tinge before going black, and then lighten again with a yellowish (warm) tinge. This is the result of a slight mismatch of the orientations of the indicatrices for long and short wavelengths.

Such dispersion is also often obvious (at least, when looked for) in the interference figures of biaxial crystals. Isogyres become edged with `cold' (i.e. bluish) and `warm' (tending to red or orange) fringes on opposite sides, indicating that optic axes for different wavelengths have slightly different positions.

Dispersion is a difficult phenomenon to investigate fully with the polarizing microscope. In cubic crystals, it can only be studied systematically by the determination of refractive indices using a number of monochromatic light sources of different wavelengths. Uniaxial crystals can show anomalous polarization colours, but they do not show fringes in interference figures, nor vagueness in extinction position, because the indicatrices for different wavelengths all have the same orientation. Like cubic crystals, however, the dispersion can be investigated by monochromatic light studies of refractive index. Biaxial crystals present the most complex cases. Not only can the shape of the indicatrix vary with wavelength (i.e. the relative values of the principal refractive indices), but so can orientation relative to the crystallographic axes. There are even substances known (admittedly with small 2V) in which the optic axial plane for red light is at right angles to the optic axial plane for violet light. The phenomenon is known as `crossed axial plane dispersion', a real challenge for the microscopist.

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