"Detecting polarized light is extremely useful," said Rice's Junichiro Kono, professor of electrical and computer engineering and of physics and astronomy. "Many animals and insects can see polarized light and use it for navigation, communication and more. Humans can't see polarized light, so we rely on devices to do that for us."
Most devices can't detect polarized light directly. Instead, engineers place a grate or filter in front of the detector.
"Our photodetector discerns polarized light intrinsically, much like the photoreceptors in the eyes of animals and insects that see polarized light," said François Léonard at Sandia National Laboratories, one of the lead researchers on the study.