A new mathematical formalism, based on a coupled-mode approach, is presented to describe light propagation in birefringent optically active crystals. An arbitrary light wave in the medium is represented as an expansion in terms of linearly polarized eigenmodes; explicit solutions of the equations for the coupled-wave amplitudes show how power is transferred between the principal components in the presence of optical activity. The (generally elliptically polarized) eigenmodes of the optically active crystal are also derived by a diagonalization of the coupled-mode equations. The analysis is extended to include electro-optic crystals, yielding a more general, complex coupling parameter. The predictions of the theory are in excellent agreement with spectral-transmission measurements in AgGaS2 near its isoindex point at 497 nm.
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