We extend the scope of the Mueller calculus to parallel that established by Jones for his calculus. We find that the Stokes vector S of a light beam that propagates through a linear depolarizing anisotropic medium obeys the first-order linear differential equation dS/dz = mS, where z is the distance traveled along the direction of propagation and m is a 4 × 4 real matrix that summarizes the optical properties of the medium which influence the Stokes vector. We determine the differential matrix m for eight basic types of optical behavior, find its form for the most general anisotropic nondepolarizing medium, and determine its relationship to the complex 2 × 2 differential Jones matrix. We solve the Stokes-vector differential equation for light propagation in homogeneous nondepolarizating media with arbitrary absorptive and refractive anisotropy. In the process, we solve the differential-matrix and Mueller-matrix eigenvalue equations. To illustrate the case of inhomogeneous anisotropic media, we consider the propagation of partially polarized light along the helical axis of a cholesteric or twisted-nematic liquid crystal. As an example of depolarizing media, we consider light propagation through a medium that tends to equalize the preference of the state of polarization to the right and left circular states.
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