Optics is the science of the study of light and is relevant to nanotechnology, computer networking, and every application using holograms, like state-issued driver's licenses. Individuals with a background in optics technology can go on to design, model, and create optical sensing security products, lighting products, and products that use lasers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most engineers, including optical engineers, need at least a bachelor's degree to secure a position. A master's degree in the field could better prepare graduates for supervisory positions, while a doctoral degree could prepare them for careers in research science or academia.
Applicants to a bachelor's degree program must have a high school diploma or GED. For a master's degree program, prospective students need a bachelor's degree in engineering or science field. To apply to a doctoral program, applicants need a master's degree in engineering or physics, and they must submit GRE scores.
Bachelor's Degree in Optical Engineering
These 4-year bachelor's degree programs can teach students to model component and system problems through a combination of physics theory and hands-on experimentation. Students learn about color measurements, the processing of optical information, and fiber optics. Coursework in the social sciences and humanities complements core training in math and physics to prepare students for optical applications in a variety of fields.
Students can learn to apply the science of light to a variety of applications, like checkout scanners, Internet switches, and the fiber optic infrastructure of communication, like telephone lines. These types of programs often include the following subject matter:
- Differential equations
- Engineering chemistry
- Technical writing
Master of Science in Optics
The field of optics includes electron microscopy, which allows scientists to see the atomic level with clarity. Students can learn about lasers, integrated and semiconductor photonics, fiber optics, nonlinear optics, and imaging display. Programs take 18-24 months to complete; certain schools offer students the opportunity to earn both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in a 5-year program. Both thesis and non-thesis options are available. The study of optics may have applications in various fields, including astronomy, homeland security, the environment, telecommunications, and computer science. Commonly studied topics include:
- Engineering management
- Geometric optics
- Optical fabrication
- Optomechanical design
- Project management
- Wave optics
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Ph.D. in Optics
Students at this level can conduct independent research in how to build devices or in statistics. Programs may encourage students to submit papers for publication and build their professional networks while learning about subjects like data mining, nanophotonics, and quantum optics. Graduates of these programs can go on to careers in academia, research, metrology, and medicine. Doctoral degree programs generally take 3-4 years to complete for applicants who have earned a master's degree in a relevant field. Doctoral students can learn about mechanics, tomography, spectroscopy, and thermal physics. Programs offer such courses as:
- Imaging systems
- Light and matter
- Laser engineering
- Light diffraction
- Optical wave propagation
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 15,650 physicists employed across various fields, as of May 2015 (www.bls.gov). Immediately upon graduation from a bachelor's degree program, individuals might find employment as:
- Applications engineers
- Camera design engineers
- Precision systems manufacturing engineers
- Sales engineers
- Technical support applications engineers
With a Ph.D. in the field of optics, employment options can be found at laboratories related to subjects like semiconductor manufacturing, spectroscopy, and photonics. Jobs available to Ph.D. graduates can include:
- Optics professor
- Product engineer
- Research scientist
- Systems integration engineer
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), physicists were projected to see an 8% growth in employment from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). As of May 2015, BLS statistics showed that physicists earned a median annual wage of $111,580.
Overall, there are both undergraduate and graduate programs that offer optics education. Bachelor's degree programs in the field combine introductory studies with general education courses to prepare students for entry-level engineering careers, while master's and Ph.D. programs offer more advanced physics coursework and opportunities to research the applications of optics in fields like astronomy and computer science.