A linear algebraic theory of partial coherence is presented that allows precise mathematical definitions of concepts such as coherence and incoherence. This not only provides new perspectives and insights but also allows us to employ the conceptual and algebraic tools of linear algebra in applications. We define several scalar measures of the degree of partial coherence of an optical field that are zero for full incoherence and unity for full coherence. The mathematical definitions are related to our physical understanding of the corresponding concepts by considering them in the context of Young’s experiment.
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