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Should a physics major learn optics?

  1. Aug 22, 2011 #1
    People never seem to mention optics when they talk about the core courses an undergraduate student majoring in physics should take. Yet, a professor told me it was a very useful course.

    Is it applicable to other areas in physics? How demanding is such a course? (my college uses Hecht's book as textbook). Did you find the course you took interesting?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 22, 2011 #2
    I decided to take an introductory course in optics this year after I found out that optics makes up 9% of the PGRE. The fact that it makes up 9% of the PGRE would lead me to believe that it is relatively useful, and should form the part of the basis of one's undergraduate in physics. But to be honest I have no idea how useful it is. I definitely think it is something worth taking regardless.
  4. Aug 22, 2011 #3
    It's definitely useful. I learned some valuable applications of fourier analysis (applicable to data analysis obviously) and you get to learn and apply lots of maths (because you're starting from the wave equation). It's definitely one of the more useful classes I took in undergrad. It's also applicable to solid state physics, laser physics, acoustic physics, and electrodynamics.
  5. Aug 22, 2011 #4
    I should mention I researched computer engineering this summer, specifically Networks-on-Chip, and one big area of research in that field right now is finding ways to implement photonic networks between processors. I actually think photonics will be very important in the coming years as it sees its way into standard electronics.
  6. Aug 22, 2011 #5
    I thank you for your helpful answers. Can someone say something about the difficulty of the course. For example, how does it compare with a course based on griffith's electrodynamics?

    Wouldn't that 9% be covered on a regular course on waves and vibrations? (except ray optics and the doppler effect; though I only have a vague idea about that material I think I could learn it on my own if I wanted to).
  7. Aug 22, 2011 #6
    I did both an optics course using Hecht and an EM course using Griffiths - I found the EM course significantly more difficult, but that may be partially because of all the new applications/methods of calculus you learn, and having the EM background helps significantly with optics.
  8. Aug 22, 2011 #7
    I do not know how useful it is, and I have not taken it yet, but it is a requirement at my school for all physics majors.
  9. Aug 22, 2011 #8
    I took it and found it useful. The associated lab was the best part actually. I found the experiments to be entertaining unlike most of the introductory labs. Interferometers can be fun. We also had some demos with AFMs.

    I found it to be relatively easy, at least on the scale of other physics courses.
  10. Aug 22, 2011 #9
    To be honest I cannot answer this. However, I plan on writing the PGRE this upcoming summer, so the optics course that I am taking in the semester prior to the summer, would be an awesome review/preparation for the PGRE for me at least.
  11. Aug 22, 2011 #10
    It is a third year required course for my major.
    Geometrical optics, wave optics, lasers, Fourier transform spectroscopy, holography, optical data processing, stellar interferometry...
  12. Aug 22, 2011 #11


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    Not only did we have a required junior/senior level optics course at my undergrad, but we also had a required freshman introductory course that covered optics for about 70% of the semester. I think the subject mater is quite useful, and something that a physics major should know, but perhaps it is not worth as much time (and a lot of repetition) as we had to spend on it. Then again, we did not have a second semester of upper-division E&M, where a lot of that stuff might otherwise be taught, so maybe it balances out.
  13. Aug 23, 2011 #12
    I have a full semester course on geometric optics and I think its excessive. It would be useful if it consisted of mostly labs, because theory wise its quite brief, and the course mainly focuses on instrumentation (yet everything is done on paper). My 2nd optics course is purely electromagnetic optics, which I'm looking forward to, and is probably more important than knowing how to calculate aberrations by hand or doing approximate ray-tracings.
  14. Aug 23, 2011 #13


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    at some stage, optics will lead to laser physics, which is relevant to a lot of modern physics experiments, so I would say it is useful
  15. Aug 25, 2011 #14
    It's definitely worth taking in my experience, it contains some stuff that will crop up now and again throughout the course. I don't know if I'd call it essential, but useful at the very least. My introductory optics module was based on the Hecht book too, it's not nightmarishly difficult to follow.
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