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Phys Rev Lett. 2006 Oct 27;97(17):173002. Epub 2006 Oct 27.

Chiral molecules split light: Reflection and refraction in a chiral liquid.

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  • 1The Rowland Institute at Harvard, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02142, USA.


A light beam changes direction as it enters a liquid at an angle from another medium, such as air. Should the liquid contain molecules that lack mirror symmetry, then it has been predicted by Fresnel that the light beam will not only change direction, but will actually split into two separate beams with a small difference in the respective angles of refraction. Here we report the observation of this phenomenon. We also demonstrate that the angle of reflection does not equal the angle of incidence in a chiral medium. Unlike conventional optical rotation, which depends on the path-length through the sample, the reported reflection and refraction phenomena arise within a few wavelengths at the interface and thereby suggest a new approach to polarimetry that can be used in microfluidic volumes.

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