Optical Sciences Degree and Course Information

Oct 20, 2019

Bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs in optical sciences prepare students for careers in optical design, academia, and research. Learn about the programs and their requirements.

Essential Information

Prior to admission to a bachelor's programs, students must possess a high school diploma or GED. In high school, students prepare for an optics degree program by taking classes in English composition, algebra, laboratory sciences, and social sciences. Laboratory sciences courses include biology, physics, chemistry, and earth science.

Admission to a graduate study program requires a bachelor's degree. Some schools require the bachelor's degree be in science or engineering. Students also need to complete advanced mathematics courses, such as calculus and linear algebra. A bachelor's degree or master's degree is required prior to admission for doctoral study. A bachelor's or master's degree in engineering, chemistry, physics or optics is preferred. While first-year coursework may not require knowledge of optical sciences, students need to be familiar with doctoral-level science and mathematics.

Some online courses and programs are available.

Bachelor's Degree in Optical Sciences

A Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Optical Sciences enables students to analyze and design optical systems. Optical systems are integral to many aspects of health care, life sciences, and national defense. Students learn about the math and engineering principles required for optical system experiments and testing. Bachelor's degree students expect to acquire knowledge of optical instruments and field-specific computer software. Optical sciences is a specialization under an umbrella physics degree program.

In addition to classroom instruction, students are expected to complete lab work including exercises in radiometry, illumination, or error analysis. Courses include:

  • Physical optics
  • Optical specifications
  • Instrumentation
  • Geometrical optics principles
  • Optoelectronics technology
  • Chemistry

Master's Degree in Optical Sciences

A Master of Science (M.S.) in Optical Sciences is earned primarily through a degree program in optics or applied optics. A master's degree program emphasizes the design and execution of self-directed research. Areas of research include imaging, spectroscopy, nanophotonics, and biophotonics. Technologies are utilized in medical diagnosis, disease management, homeland security, and telecommunications. Students are required to participate in research projects in a related field, such as optical nanotechnology.

Master's degree programs emphasize lab work and may require students to research and defend a thesis. Students participate in the following courses:

  • Laser physics and atomic structure
  • Electrodynamics and optical communications
  • Quantum optics
  • Theoretical physics methods
  • Optoelectronics
  • Nanophotonics

Ph.D. in Optical Sciences

A Ph.D. program in optical sciences prepares graduate students for research careers in government, academic, and industrial settings. Students take a broad range of courses before deciding to specialize in one area of optical sciences. Ph.D. programs focus on specific optics research projects, such as the application of optics in health sciences or light emission studies. Successful completion of a preliminary examination is required before progressing on to advanced studies. A dissertation is also required.

Extensive research is required, in addition to coursework in statistics and probability, and optics laboratory courses. Core courses include:

  • Quantum mechanics
  • Optical and lens design
  • Physics and lasers
  • Imaging physics and telecommunication
  • Semiconductor properties
  • Optoelectronic systems

Popular Career Options

Graduates of an optical sciences bachelor's degree program may parlay their knowledge into engineering sciences and research at governmental organizations. With an optics bachelor's degree, students may choose from careers in the following areas:

  • Optical design
  • Optical fabrication and testing
  • Optical instrumentation
  • Optical communications

With an optics Ph.D., graduates can pursue postsecondary teaching careers or work in a variety of optics research fields. Some common career options include:

  • Physicist for optical metrology
  • Opto-electronics engineer
  • Optical engineer

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

A graduate degree program in optical sciences prepares students for careers in the non-profit sector and academia. Graduates may conduct research or work with top-of-the-line optical technologies. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an 9% increase in jobs for physicists, including optical physicists, between 2018 and 2028. The median annual income for physicists in general is $120,950, according to the BLS. The industry with the highest employment of physicists is scientific research and development services.

Continuing Education

Graduates of bachelor's degree programs who seek entry-level employment can continue their training through memberships in professional organizations. SPIE, formerly the International Society for Optical Engineering, provides online and conference training to members in a variety of subjects, such as photonics and optical design. The Optical Society (OSA) offers networking and educational opportunities to optics engineers and scientists. Graduates may also choose to go on to earn a master's degree in optical sciences.

Upon completion of an optics master's degree program, graduates may choose to go on to earn a Ph.D. in Optical Sciences. In general, a Ph.D. program builds upon concepts learned in a master's degree program and includes research opportunities in nonlinear optics, lasers or imaging.

Students of optical sciences learn about the physical properties and behaviors of light through studies in engineering and physics. Laboratory work is emphasized in both undergraduate and graduate studies.

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