Light, Sound and Waves

Polar Opposites

Enrichment Activity for 5-11 11-14

What you need

  • Transparent sticky tape
  • Piece of clear plastic
  • Two “polarisers” – pieces of polarising plastic (or two old sunglass lenses)
  • A bright lamp


  1. View the lamp through two polarisers at once. Rotate one of them until you can block the light
  2. Now stick strips of tape on the clear plastic, criss-crossing them. Sandwich the plastic between the two polarisers
  3. Look at the lamp through the “sandwich”. Rotate the polariser closest to you – you should see a kaleidoscope of coloured patterns

Results and Explanation

Light travels in one direction but vibrates at right-angles to this – sideways and up and down. Polarisers let only the horizontal or vertical part through, so you can combine them to block light.

In the “sandwich” the stretched tape slows down and rotates the polarised light, shifting the different wavelengths (ie colours) of light by different angles. As these hit the second polariser, different wavelengths get through as you rotate it, making coloured patterns.

These experiments have not been specifically safety tested for home use but we believe them to be safe if the instructions are followed. Adult supervision or direction is recommended as appropriate. All experiments are carried out at your own risk.

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