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Take optics or not?

  1. Jul 12, 2007 #1
    my adviser told me i have to take optics next semester or else i won't graduate but that's bs cause it's not a required course. he did say it'll will help with lots of things. is this true? i dont mind taking all the physics courses i can but i have a limited amount of time because i just transfered in as a junior.

    here is the summary for the course

    "
    Geometrical optics, wave optics, optical instrumentation, properties of light, lasers, fiber optics."

    i have vague aspirations of going into theoretical HEP and beyond the standard model stuff.
     
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2007
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  3. Jul 12, 2007 #2

    mgb_phys

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    Sounds like the standard intro optics course.Personally I have never found them very inspiring.
    You generally don't get much more ray optics than you did in high school which is pretty much all you need until you start hitting real optical design work.
    The other optical instrumentation / laser stuff is usually covered so briefly and is such a wide subject that it doesn't server much purpose.

    I assume you will have a separate maths based course on em-waves.
     
  4. Jul 12, 2007 #3
    Isn't there a story about Heisenberg that says he could explain how an electron diffracts but not how a light microscope works?

    Optics is a rather bland part of a nutritious physics diet. Take it, it will be good for you. At the very least it might give you a few more points on the GRE.
     
  5. Jul 12, 2007 #4

    robphy

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    I don't know many high-schools that teach ray optics.
    In addition, in my experience, it's not uncommon for introductory [two-semester] university courses to skip optics, which usually appears near the end of the textbook.

    Of course, there's more to optics than ray-optics.
    There's "physical-optics".... polarization, diffraction, and interference... which are themes that one sees in quantum mechanics.
     
  6. Jul 12, 2007 #5
    Whoa skip Optics???

    That's just crazy talk.
     
  7. Jul 12, 2007 #6
    i did ray optics, diffraction, interference, polarization and all that in my intro e&m class
     
  8. Jul 12, 2007 #7

    robphy

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    Unfortunately, it happens.
    Thermodynamics and Fluid Mechanics also seem to get skipped in the introductory courses... not to mention Special Relativity and introductory Quantum Physics.

    It seems the introductory physics curriculum has too much in it [at least for today's students]. Consider the typical introductory textbook with 40 to 45 chapters. At the rate of a chapter a week [plus time alloted to exams during the semester], there isn't enough time in a two-semester (each semester lasting about 14 to 15 weeks) course to do it all.... without leaving many students behind.

    (One way to at least touch on the topic in a course is to have a lab activity on the topic without doing it in lecture.)
     
  9. Jul 12, 2007 #8

    robphy

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    Hopefully, your optics class doesn't overlap that much with your intro E&M class. Maybe you cover the same topics... but hopefully not at the same level of sophistication.

    It might be worth it to acutally look at the syllabus of a recent optics course at your school to see what is really done. Going just by the course name "optics" doesn't provide enough details to answer the question for your situation.
     
  10. Jul 12, 2007 #9
    I think the question to ask is: What physics/math class would you rather take? And Is it going to help you develop fundementals?

    Optics, from what my department has told me is a great upper division elective because it gives you a chance to touch on something you don't get a lot of practice with. Everyone plays with E&M and Classical Mechanics, alot of people try to squeeze in Quantum also, but some how either optics or fluid mechanics gets kicked to the side.

    In my opinion, unless you have any required physics classes burning at you, it would likely be a good idea to take the class. A secondary class on optics isn't going to hurt, just like a secondary class on thermo isn't going to hurt.
     
  11. Jul 12, 2007 #10

    mgb_phys

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    We did sign conventions, real+imaginary images, lens makers formula and the rules for rays through and parallel to the axis ,at school ( don't know USA grades but say 13-14year old).
    Except for the matrix form for calculations that is pretty much all you learn in geometric optics. Interference, diffraction and polarisation are generally covered in an EM course.

    I'm an astronomer, and do optical instrumentation - it's very hard to find people with a knowledge of optics.
    To blame are probably fairly uninteresting coverage in schoos, old fashioned textbooks and a beleif that only 'modern' optics ie fibre and diffraction is of any interest.
     
  12. Jul 12, 2007 #11

    robphy

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    Maybe this is an indication to the OP that taking an optics class may give you an edge... and make you more marketable.
     
  13. Jul 12, 2007 #12
    honestly somehow i doubt that anything taught in this junior level class will make me more marketable. the reason why i'm questioning taking this class is because there are numerous math classes i would rather take.
     
  14. Jul 12, 2007 #13

    robphy

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    Go for the math courses then... or do both.
     
  15. Jul 12, 2007 #14
    I've always wondered, how does optics mix or compare with EM or elecrodynamics?
     
  16. Jul 13, 2007 #15
    At the risk of sounding like an evil capitalist: the job market for Optics people is still very good, second only to perhaps radiological physics.
     
  17. Jul 13, 2007 #16

    mgb_phys

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    Sorry my point wasn't that optics is useless ( try hiring anyone who understands it!) it was that intro optics courses are useless.
    They teach you nothing about optical design/optical instruments and the coverage of most physical optics is so shallow.
    Modern optics (fibres, diffraction and holograms) get a mention but without the maths to support them whcih will be covered in other courses you may as well read wikipedia.
     
  18. Jul 14, 2007 #17

    Dr Transport

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    You get some of the basics of optics in a decent E&M course. You'll see all of the Fresnel equations along with wave propagation.

    I can't find enough people with a high enough optics knowledge to hire. I have been in contact with the highest rated optics/optical engineering departments in the US and will be hiring some of their graduates in the next few years.
     
  19. Jul 14, 2007 #18
    Is it true that EM is more fundalmental then classical optics? But optics in general cannot be compared with EM because EM is a classical theory but optics includes classical and quantum theory as long as its about light in the most general sense of the word.

    However optics is a manifestation theory arose out of the more fundalmental ones? i.e. EM, quantum
     
  20. Jul 14, 2007 #19

    Dr Transport

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    Classical optics is entirely based on E&M theory. To advance into the quantum realm, yes, you do need to include quantum effects.

    You can do a whole lot in optics without ever going into QM, I'll agree, the fun stuff takes into account quantum mechanical effects, but you do not need QM in any way shape or form to do many things in optics. For example, designing windows, anti-reflection coatings, etc are done with classical optics only. Another interesting example you use almost every day, the headlights in your car were designed without taking into account QM as is the light you may be using to read by while reading this post. Diffraction is totally a classical effect,although some might talk about Young's experiment using QM, they did a pretty good job of explaining it using classical E&M theory.

    To answer your initial question, E&M and QM are more fundamental.

    To answer mgb_phys, the optics in Haliday & Resnick is enough to teach you to design telescopes and rudimentary devices. A more advanced course would be needed to work more complicated device/system design and many many schools do not teach at that level, your optics course may but my initial course did not.
     
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2007
  21. Jul 16, 2007 #20
    In those fields, I would lean towards the usefulness of taking higher level math classes, if you are not alloted the time to take both (I always registered for a FULL semester as an undergrad... it's like getting courses as close to free as you can!). Higher level maths are also probably not as easy to learn without a good mentor.

    Taking an optics course might be more useful if you were going into the experimental end of HEP (believe it or not, some of the designs of ccollectors/detectors in the fields might be modeled similarly to optical devices.) I do, however, also think it would be a shame if you NEVER encountered certain topics like ray-tracing, physical optics etc. That said... much of the introductory material is simple and can probably be learned from the text... (and, having taught high school physics in the US, it often IS part of the high school physics curriculum.)

    Note: You may however, need to take a certain number of electives within your own field (physics, not math if you are a physics major). Check your standent handbook and catalog to be sure you have graduation requirements fulfilled in time.
     
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