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Calibration, quantification, and standardization of the polarimetric instrumentation, as well as interpretation and understanding of the obtained data, require the development and use of well-calibrated phantoms and standards. We reviewed the status of tissue phantoms for a variety of applications in polarimetry; more than 500 papers are considered. We divided the phantoms into five groups according to their origin (biological/nonbiological) and fundamental polarimetric properties of retardation, depolarization, and diattenuation. We found that, while biological media are generally depolarizing, retarding, and diattenuating, only one of all the phantoms reviewed incorporated all these properties, and few considered at least combined retardation and depolarization. Samples derived from biological tissue, such as tendon and muscle, remain extremely popular to quickly ascertain a polarimetric system, but do not provide quantifiable results aside from relative direction of their principal optical axis. Microspheres suspensions are the most utilized phantoms for depolarization, and combined with theoretical models can offer true quantification of depolarization or degree of polarization. There is a real paucity of birefringent phantoms despite the retardance being one of the most interesting parameters measurable with polarization techniques. Therefore, future work should be directed at generating truly reliable and repeatable phantoms for this metric determination. Diattenuating phantoms are rare and application-specific. Given that diattenuation is considered to be low in most biological tissues, the lack of such phantoms is seen as less problematic. The heterogeneity of the phantoms reviewed points to a critical need for standardization in this field. Ultimately, all research groups involved in polarimetric studies and instruments development would benefit from sharing a limited set of standardized polarimetric phantoms, as is done earlier in the round robin investigations in ellipsometry.


Originally published in the Journal of Biomedical Optics.

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