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2.8: Interference Figures

  • Page ID
    11109
  • Interference figures are a technique which can be used to help identify minerals using a polarizing light microscope. In this chapter, we explore the practical aspects of obtaining and interpreting interference figures and other related observations.

    Learning Objectives

    Students should be able to:

    • Describe the steps used to obtain interference figures.
    • Correctly name the parts of an interference figure.
    • Describe the features of an indicatrix.
    • Identify the type of interference figure produced.
    • Connect crystal symmetry to the type of interference figure(s) that are produced.
    • Use interference figures to narrow down the possible symmetry choices and help identify a mineral.
    • Make optical sign determinations and 2V angle estimates to further help identify minerals (optional).

    How to Obtain an Interference Figure

    These videos show the steps to obtaining an interference figure. They are shot at two different angles so it is possible to see the operation of the microscope better.

    Thumbnail for the embedded element "Calcite Interference Figure Instructional Video"

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    Thumbnail for the embedded element "Quartz Interference Figure Instructional Video"

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    Figure 2.8.1 A and 2.8.1 B. Basic steps to obtain an interference figure on a mineral.

    In each of these videos, there is a single mineral crystal on the slide. If you are looking at multiple grains of the same mineral, you may find it helpful tolocate mineral grains with the lowest interference colors (lowest retardation) to obtain interference figures that are the easiest to identify (e.g., uniaxial optic axes figures, or biaxial acute bisectrix figures, which will be described below).

    Guided Inquiry

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    Question 2.8.1. Drag and drop the steps of obtaining an interference figure in the correct order.

    Anatomy of an Interference Figure

    Below is an example of one type of interference figure. This figure contains three types of features: isogyres, a melatope, and isochromes.

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    Figure 2.8.3. Anatomy of an interference figure.

    The Indicatrix

    The index of refraction is different in different crystallographic directions within a mineral, according to its crystal symmetry. We can characterize this using an ellipsoid (roughly the shape of an American football or rugby ball-shaped object) which shows the refractive index in every direction, including the three principle optical axes. This ellipsoid is called an indicatrix.

    The indicatrix is a 3-dimensional visualization of the indices of refraction of a mineral. As discussed previously in light and optics, the index of refraction is different for different minerals. It can also vary as a function of direction within the crystal structure. Minerals with lower symmetries have greater variation in the index of refraction with direction.

    Figure 2.8.4.  Examples of a uniaxial indicatrix and a biaxial indicatrix.  The indices of refraction are plotted parallel to the vibration direction of light.
    Figure 2.8.4. Examples of a uniaxial indicatrix and a biaxial indicatrix. The indices of refraction are plotted parallel to the vibration direction of light.

    As discussed in Section 2.3 Light and Optics, Birefringence, a solid material such as a mineral can split light waves into two polarized beams, the ordinary ray (represented by “o” or “ω” and the extraordinary ray (represented by “e” or “ε”). Uniaxial minerals exhibit the same refractive index along two principal axes (), and a different refractive index along the third principal axis (). Biaxial minerals have different refractive index values along each principal axis, with as the lowest refractive index, as an intermediate refractive index, and as the largest refractive index.

    Why create this type of diagram? It is useful for thinking about how the interference figure will vary as the crystal is oriented in different directions in the thin section. Indicatrices are shown in the figures showing uniaxial and biaxial interference figures in the sections below. The figures show the orientation of the indices of refraction with respect to the thin section surface using the indicatrix, and the resulting interference figure.

    Uniaxial Interference Figures

    The following two videos explain how to obtain uniaxial interference figures and how to determine optic sign for a uniaxial mineral. Figure 2.8.7 summarizes the types of interference figures that can be observed for uniaxial minerals.

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    Figure 2.8.5. Earth Optics Videos. Video 4: Uniaxial Minerals, CC-BY license. https://youtu.be/JShFwEIqUzY

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    Figure 2.8.6. Earth Optics Videos. Video 5: Uniaxial Flash Figure, CC-BY license. https://youtu.be/KBwFSC4vPRc

    Figure 2.8.7. Different types of interference figures produced by uniaxial minerals. For simplicity, isochromes are not shown. The lower part of each image shows the orientation of the indicatrix for the mineral. The middle part of the diagram shows the interference figure relative to the thin section and the upper image shows the view through the microscope ocular.
    Figure 2.8.7. Different types of interference figures produced by uniaxial minerals. For simplicity, isochromes are not shown. The lower part of each image shows the orientation of the indicatrix for the mineral. The middle part of the diagram shows the interference figure relative to the thin section and the upper image shows the view through the microscope ocular.
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    Figure 2.8.8. Uniaxial optic axis figure obtained on quartz.

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    Figure 2.8.9. Uniaxial flash figure obtained on quartz.

    Guided Inquiry

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    Biaxial Interference Figures

    The following two videos explain how to obtain biaxial interference figures, how to determine optic sign for a biaxial mineral, and how to estimate a 2V angle.

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    Figure 2.8.10. Earth Optics Videos. Video 6: Biaxial Minerals. CC-BY license. https://youtu.be/pA_fJnbPRtg

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    Figure 2.8.11. Earth Optics Videos. Video 7: Biaxial Flash Figure. CC-BY license. https://youtu.be/qCkljJ1Isjw

    Biaxial interference figure diagrams.

    Figure 2.8.12.A. Different types of interference figures produced by biaxial minerals. For simplicity, isochromes are not shown. The lower part of each image shows the orientation of the indicatrix for the mineral. The middle part of the diagram shows the interference figure relative to the thin section and the upper image shows the view through the microscope ocular. M= melatope; Bxa = acute bisectrix; Bxo = obtuse bisectrix.
    Figure 2.8.12.A. Different types of interference figures produced by biaxial minerals. For simplicity, isochromes are not shown. The lower part of each image shows the orientation of the indicatrix for the mineral. The middle part of the diagram shows the interference figure relative to the thin section and the upper image shows the view through the microscope ocular.
    M= melatope; Bxa = acute bisectrix; Bxo = obtuse bisectrix.
    Figure 2.8.12.B. Different types of interference figures produced by biaxial minerals. For simplicity, isochromes are not shown. The lower part of each image shows the orientation of the indicatrix for the mineral. The middle part of the diagram shows the interference figure relative to the thin section and the upper image shows the view through the microscope ocular. Bxa = acute bisectrix; Bxo = obtuse bisectrix.
    Figure 2.8.12.B. Different types of interference figures produced by biaxial minerals. For simplicity, isochromes are not shown. The lower part of each image shows the orientation of the indicatrix for the mineral. The middle part of the diagram shows the interference figure relative to the thin section and the upper image shows the view through the microscope ocular.
    Bxa = acute bisectrix; Bxo = obtuse bisectrix.
    Thumbnail for the embedded element "Albite acute bisectrix interference figure"

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    Figure 2.8.13. An acute bisectrix optical interference figure obtained on albite.

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    Figure 2.8.14. An optical interference figure obtained on an augite crystal oriented parallel to the 001 crystallographic direction.

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    Figure 2.8.15. An optical flash figure obtained on an augite crystal.

    Guided Inquiry

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    HomeInterference Figures and Crystal Symmetry

    The types of interference figures that a mineral produces are related to the crystal symmetry of that mineral. The figure below summarizes the division of crystal symmetries into isotropic, uniaxial, and biaxial optical properties.

    Figure 2.8.16. The crystal systems labelled with optical properties (isotropic, uniaxial, or biaxial). If the symmetry of a crystal is known, it can be used to predict which type of interference figures the mineral will produce in thin section.
    Figure 2.8.16. The crystal systems labelled with optical properties (isotropic, uniaxial, or biaxial). If the symmetry of a crystal is known, it can be used to predict which type of interference figures the mineral will produce in thin section.

    Guided Inquiry

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    Synthesis: Is it Uniaxial or Biaxial?

    Thumbnail for the embedded element "Calcite interference figure"

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    Figure 2.8.17. An interference figure obtained on a calcite crystal.

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    Figure 2.8.18. An interference figure obtained on a nepheline crystal.

    Guided Inquiry

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