Optics is both science and engineering

Optics involves both science and engineering. Optics is a field of such variety that scientists and engineers with all kinds of interests contribute to it. Optics is a vibrant and growing field with a rich history. If you’re interested in investigating questions that science hasn’t yet answered, optics has an inexhaustible supply of new and interesting phenomena to engage your scientific interests. Optics is filled with people who enjoy thinking about what new inventions will make life better, and with people who want to make those devices. Optical engineers use the discoveries of scientists to design and fabricate optical equipment that advance industry and improve life by making products that are easier to use, safer, and faster.

Optics is the study and the manipulation of a type of energy called electromagnetic radiation. A representation of the electromagnetic radiation (EM Rad) spectrum is shown below. Optical scientists and engineers work primarily with the part of the spectrum that spans from x-rays (radiation with nanometer [1 nm = 10-9 m] wavelengths) to the far infrared (radiation with nearly millimeter [1 mm = 10-3 m] wavelengths). Different parts of the EM Rad spectrum may seem to have little in common with one another, but EM Rad of all wavelengths obey the same physical rules. This is a very powerful and useful fact - if you know how visible light behaves, then you also know how microwaves act!

Contributor: Lawrence D. Woolf

Visible light occupies only a small portion of the spectrum: wavelengths from 400 nm (violet) to 700 nm (red). Even though human eyes are sensitive to only the visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, optical scientists and engineers have developed devices that can detect radiation in other invisible portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Once the radiation is detected, it is converted into an image that humans can see. Work with invisible radiation has resulted in the development of x-ray machines, night vision goggles, and advanced microscopes.