Studying In the Field
A number of years ago, study in the field of optics could have been summarized as dealing with primarily lenses and mirrors and perhaps a few variations thereof. Today, however, optics or optical science is one of the fastest growing and most quickly evolving fields available.
Optics can be defined as the field of science and engineering encompassing the physical phenomena and technologies associated with the generation, transmission, manipulation, detection, and utilization of light. (According to a report by The University of Arizona Office of Economic Development.). More generally speaking, optics refers to a variety of physical and digital technologies that are linked due to their use of light either by manipulation or application to perform useful tasks.
Optics study can typically be pursued at a Master's or Ph.D. level. Some programs also offer graduate certificates for those people already working in a similar field who specifically want to expand their knowledge of optics.
Because of the quickly evolving, interdisciplinary nature of optics, it is often studied in combination with engineering or physics disciplines. Programs may include a core curriculum of basic optics classes with a range of advanced course work that allows students to participate in research and attain competitive highly technical skills. Many programs require either a thesis or co-op participation in order to prepare students for work in the optics industry.
Many programs also allow students to specialize in particular areas of the optics field that interest them. Because optics can be applied in a wide range of technology, this requires providing a range of specialized courses and research opportunities. The facilities of the graduate school you choose as well as the range of courses available are therefore very important in determining which optics program you choose. You can explore the options provided by our different sponsors for more information.
Job Opportunities In the Field
Just as the field of optics is evolving rapidly, so are the career opportunities in a variety of areas. Optical science degrees prepare students to work in several main fields including communication and information technology, health and life sciences, optical sensing, lighting and energy, manufacturing, applied optics, defense, and research and education.
Due to the emerging nature of the optics industry, demand for those with optics expertise is very high and is projected to increase as more ways of applying optics in technology are discovered. Many job descriptions within the field either fit into the categories of optical scientist, optical technician, or optical engineer. Much research and development is being conducted to discover new ways of applying optics.
Some examples of technology that has resulted from optics include:
- Sensors (image, thermal, distance, size, shape, etc.)
- Some copiers
- Laser and LED printers
- Microscopes (analog and digital)
- Fiber optics
- Bar code scanners
- Guidance and tracking systems
- X-ray, MRI, and CAT scan technologies
Those with an interest in optical technology and an advanced degree will find themselves with many options as to the industry in which they would like to exercise their expertise. It is really up to you, as the student, to capitalize on your interest in science and technology to explore the potential directions you can go within the optical sciences.