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Nicol, William

prism invention petrology appear

(1768–1851) British geologist and physicist: inventor of the Nicol prism.

Nicol lectured in natural philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. In 1828 he invented the Nicol prism, which utilizes the doubly refracting property of Iceland spar and proved invaluable in the investigation of polarized light.

However, this usage was much delayed; his invention did not appear in print until 1831 and then only in a little-read book on fossil woods knew of Nicol’s invention and by 1861 applied it to the study of mineral structure, and so made the polarizing microscope an essential instrument in petrology and later in metallurgy. Organic chemists also applied it in polarimeters, to measure the polarization of solutions. More recently, invention of Polaroid ® has largely replaced the Nicol prism, which was so valuable for a century.

Nicol also developed the technique of grinding rock specimens, cemented to a glass slide, to extreme thinness so that they could be examined by transmitted light; this major advance in petrology also did not appear until 1831.

Nicolle, Charles (Jules Henri) [next] [back] Nicodemus

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