This refractive index should be equal to the greatest index of the plate, and with a biaxal plate the mean axis of optical symmetry should be parallel to its faces and in the normal section of the prisms, while with an uniaxal plate the optic axis should be in a plane perpendicular to this normal section.
In the case of a biaxal plate perpendicular to the bisector of the acute angle between the optic axes, the curves of constant retardation are approximately Cassini's ovals, and the lines of like polarization are equilateral hyperbolae passing through the points corresponding to the optic axes.
In Biot's earlier experiments the beam of light employed was nearly parallel: the phenomena of rings and brushes that are seen with a conical pencil of light were discovered by Sir David Brewster in the case of uniaxal crystals in 1813 and in that of biaxal crystals in 1815.
It was in this way that the rotary property of certain biaxal crystals was first established by Pocklington.
When the light is circularly polarized or circularly analysed, a single plate gives two mutually enwrapping spirals, and similar spirals in circularly polarized light are obtained with plates of an active biaxal crystal perpendicular to one of the optic axes.
With a biaxal plate perpendicular to the optic axis in the diagonal position, the hyperbolic brush becomes an hyperbolic line and the rings are expanded or contracted on its concave side, with a positive plate, according as the plane of the optic axes is parallel or perpendicular to the axis of the quarter-wave plate, the reverse being the case with a negative plate.