We describe a new technique for the measurement of retinal nerve fiber layer thickness and compare its results with histopathologic measurements in the same eyes. For these studies, two fixed monkey eyes were incised and placed on a pedestal in a plastic viewing dish. The eyes were perfused to maintain a pressure between 10 and 20 mm Hg. An ellipsometer, an optical device used to measure the change in polarization of light (retardation), was implemented in a laser tomographic scanner to obtain polarization data from the two monkey retinas. For the 15 measured locations, retardation ranged between a mean (+/- SD) of 0.9 degrees +/- 1.8 degrees and 23.7 degrees +/- 0.3 degrees. Subsequently, retinal nerve fiber layer thickness was measured at the imaged points in epoxy resin-embedded sections by an observer masked to the ellipsometry data. These values ranged between 20.4 microns and 213.9 microns. There was an excellent correlation (R = .83) between retardation and the histopathologic measurement of retinal nerve fiber layer thickness. Quantitating retinal nerve fiber layer thickness may enhance discrimination between glaucomatous and normal eyes earlier than is currently available by anatomic and functional approaches.