Studies & Degrees in Optics
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Optics Study Programs
Optics, the science of light, was once primarily concerned with the creation of microscopes, telescopes, eyeglasses, and similar devices; in our technology-driven age, however, the range of options for people interested in optics has exploded with diversity. Lasers alone make up an integral part of devices ranging from cell phones and satellites to grocery store barcode scanners, and lasers are only one small part of the field of optics. Optics experts may be scientists or engineers, and may work in any number of different industries.
Light is not only centrally important to many cutting-edge technologies–is also one of the most interesting and mysterious scientific subjects. For centuries, physicists have been fascinated and confounded by the bizarre properties of this seemingly mundane phenomenon. Because light can behave both as a wave and as a particle, and because it is by far the fastest thing in the known universe, the study of optics has the potential to lead to enormous breakthroughs in physics. Thus, people who dream of being at the vanguard of scientific advancement sometimes find that optics is the best option for them.
- Attention to detail and methodical way of looking at things
- Problem-solving skills
- Enjoyment of math and the sciences, especially physics
- Patience and ability to work on a single problem for long stretches of time
- Love of magnifying glasses, laser shows, or other light-based gadgetry is a plus
There are numerous study options for people interested in optics, but the most basic way to organize optics programs is to separate them into applied and theoretical optics. Theoretical optics is the “pure” science – modeling, research, and experimentation are the key aspects of a course of study in this area. It is good for people who prefer to think about problems in the abstract without worrying about mundane details. Applied optics is the opposite – it is concerned primarily with real-world applications, and abstract theorizing is only used as a training exercise or a way of gaining background knowledge. Naturally, these two types of programs appeal to very different kinds of students and tend to lead to very different careers.
Just as programs in optics can be separated into applied and theoretical branches, careers in this area can be separated along the same lines. Experts in theoretical optics usually work in laboratories, universities, and other academic settings. They usually teach and do research, and they almost all have advanced degrees such as PhD’s. Careers in applied optics, on the other hand, usually do not require quite as much schooling (although the most lucrative jobs sometimes do). People who choose this path typically work in the private sector, although the details of their jobs vary widely. The good news about careers in optics is that the numbers are good: consumer electronics are becoming increasingly reliant on optics, and thus optics experts are increasingly in demand. Their ability to integrate lasers, lenses, and other light-based technology into the latest high-tech devices makes them an indispensable part of the growing tech and telecommunications industries.