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Optical Physicists Engineers

A career in optical physics or engineering means knowing about the behavior and properties of light, including its interactions with matter and its detection by instruments.


Since the discovery that light is electromagnetic radiation, optics has largely been regarded in theoretical physics as a subfield of electromagnetism. Some optical phenomena depend on the quantum nature of light and the interaction of light with matter. Geometric optics and physical optics are models that describe phenomena while ignoring properties of light that are insignificant for the system of interest. A job in optical science might require a background in electrical engineering, psychology, and medicine (particularly ophthalmology and optometry).

For the purpose of recruiting and looking for a career, optics and lasers go together because of the size of the market for lasers. In 2004, approximately 131,000 lasers and 733 million diode lasers were sold with a value of over $5 billion. Since their invention in 1960, they have become ubiquitous with supermarket barcode scanners and laserdisc players. There are jobs with lasers in medicine (cosmetic and eye surgery), industry (cutting and welding), defense (marking targets and defending against missiles), and scientific research (spectroscopy and interferometry).

A job in illumination engineering involves the deliberate application of light to achieve some aesthetic or practical effect. Light sources include artificial light from lamps as well as daylight from windows and skylights. Artificial lighting represents a major component of energy consumption, accounting for a significant part of all energy consumed worldwide. A career in photonics means working on the generation, emission, transmission, modulation, signal processing, switching, amplification, detection and sensing of light. Because there are so many job opportunities in photonics, it can be considered a separate career path.

Careers in optoelectronics require an understanding of the quantum mechanical effects of light on semiconducting materials. Optoelectronics is the study and application of electronic devices that produce, detect, and control light. In this context, light often includes invisible forms of radiation such as gamma rays, X-rays, ultraviolet and infrared, in addition to visible light. Optoelectronic devices are electrical-to-optical or optical-to-electrical transducers, or instruments that use such devices in their operation. There are jobs in the design and manufacture of devices that use the photoelectric or photovoltaic effect. Such devices are photodiodes (including solar cells), phototransistors, photomultipliers, and elements for integrated optical circuits (IOC). The phenomena of photoconductivity is used in photo resistors and charge-coupled imaging devices. The phenomenon that is the basis for lasers is stimulated emission.


Educational Requirements

Typically, a degree in Physics will qualify students for this profession. Some go on to pursue a master’s or PhD.


Salary Information 2023

According to, the average salary for an Optical Physicist or Engineer in 2023 was $130,376.


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Information retrieved from Physics Today: Optics and Lasers Careers.


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