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Nicol prism


Nicol prism, analysing prism made of two pieces of Iceland spar (trigonal crystal calcite) cemented together with Canada balsam, the prism makes use of the double refracting qualities of Iceland spar to form an optical filter for polarising light, by William Nicol, Edinburgh, Scotland, circa 1850

Museum reference



History of Science

Object name

Nicol prism

Production information

Nicol, William, 1770 - 1851, Geologist, lecturer and inventor
Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland, Northern Europe


c. 1850


Iceland spar, Canada balsam


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Morrison-Low, A.D. & Christie, J.R.R. (eds.), Martyr of Science: Sir David Brewster 1781-1868. Edinburgh: 1984, p 86-7

Nicol, W., On a method of so far increasing the divergence of the two rays in calcareous spar, that only one image may be seen at a time, Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal 7 (1829), pp 83-4

Morrison-Low, A.D., William Nicol, FRSE, c1771-1851 Lecturer, Scientist and Collector, Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, new series, 2 (1992), pp 123-31

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