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Being an Optical Engineer?

  1. Jan 15, 2009 #1
    I live in Tucson, AZ and I'm going to be going to the University of Arizona in a little bit, at the U of A there is an Optical Sciences and Engineering program (BS, MS, and PhD) that is supposed to be pretty good. I haven't been able to find anything online about majoring in Optics or being an Optical engineer so I was wondering if anybody could help me out and tell me what it's like to either major in it or be an optical engineer.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 15, 2009 #2


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    UA has a very good reputation for this - thanks to Roger Angel's mirror lab.
    It depends what kind of optical engineering you want to do.
    Optics rather got dropped off the general syllabus in most places for a couple of generations, modern optics (lasers, fibres, holograms) was cool and sexy but real lens design was forgotten about.

    There is a demand for proper traditional lens design optical engineers - the current crop all seem to be about 80. Lens design packages like Zemax make the work easier but it's still hard to find people who know what they are doing.

    All the new modern optics stuff also needs people who actually understand how to engineer it into products - and if optical computing ever takes off !
  4. Jan 16, 2009 #3
    It's also possible to work in the field at national labs, in military labs, and for industrial contractors (like Raytheon). I used to work for the Air Force Research Labs designing lasers. Overall, it's a good field to get into, even (and perhaps especially) if you are just planning on pursuing a master's degree.
  5. Jan 16, 2009 #4
    I've listened to some presentations by an engineer from a local company that is the premier supplier of submarine periscopes to the US and allies.

    Quite a bit of technology that goes into a $15 million periscope - apparently the new units no longer penetrate the hull.


    I'm planning to take a course in optoelectronics as a senior elective.
    Downloaded the class-notes for a previous section and it seems like an intense course.
    Can't wait!
  6. Jan 16, 2009 #5
    Thanx all...Yeah I live in Tucson, AZ where raytheon makes lots of missiles and stuff and if I got into Optics I'd probably try to work there first (better salary...cooler stuff like lasers and laser guidance systems for missiles and other cool stuff like that). Also I'd love to get a job at a national labratory, like Los Alamos...top secret military technology sounds fun to work on! (yeah I've been watching Eureka so I prolly have a glorified picture of its actually awesomeness. I'm planning to at least get my masters (just cuz a lot of jobs require one and you start out making like 10k more) and I'm going to wait until I get to that point in my degree to decide if I want to get my PhD also...so I'm just trying to learn as much as I possibly can.

    Can you tell me what kind of things you were actually designing/building as a new engineer? I really don't know what they actually do other than make more and more powerful lasers...I'm curious

  7. Jan 17, 2009 #6
    In my case, I was working in a group that was developing lasers for sensing applications -- both lasers that would be used for imaging, and lasers that would be used for chemical detection (i.e. be in a region of the spectrum where a hcemical of interest had strong absorption lines). In most cases, the desire was also to have laser sources that would be more "eyesafe" -- there are by by-laws associated with the Geneva Convention about trying to limit blinding the enemy (it's ok to kill them, but you should avoid unnecessarily blinding them)... and of course you also don't want to blind your own troops. (Eyesafeness is related to the frequency/color of light, as well as the intensity.)

    Other parts of the same building I worked in were testing optics that would work with these sources and creating systems that would go onto test flights.

    It certainly was a fun place to work... but I was glad I worked in the basic development, so almost everything I worked on is in the public domain of knowledge... and the applications for the sources I used were also probably fairly noble -- let's hit the right target and not unnecessarily hurt people.
  8. Jan 17, 2009 #7
    Yeah...that sounds pretty cool! I guess I really wouldn't mind doing that!
  9. Jan 17, 2009 #8


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    If you want to go on for graduate degrees after your B.S., and want a change of scenery, University of Rochester's (NY) optics program is on a par with Arizona. They are perhaps the two top optics programs in the USA.

    (Note that winters in upstate NY tend, on average, to be slightly cooler than in Arizona. :smile:)

    One of the new, fairly recent areas of research is in terahertz (THz) waves, the spectrum that lies between infrared and radar, for both generation and detection/imagin at these frequencies. Important applications in homeland/airport security, for one.

    Arizona seems to be active in this area:

    google terahertz waves, or thz waves, to find more.
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