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Learn about optics with online courses and programs

Light rays can be used and manipulated to develop a variety of optical instruments. Optics is the branch of physics that studies the properties of light to create or alter images, build new products, and unlock new methods in healthcare and similar fields.

What is optics?

Optics is the study of light and its behavior. By observing how light travels through different mediums, scientists can uncover new uses in science, technology, and other practical applications. 

Scientists who study light sources might focus on the physical properties of light, but they also may study experimental fields of quantum optics to explain the behavior of these subatomic particles. Subfields include:

  • Wave optics, which explores phenomena like interference and diffraction.

  • Geometric optics, which is concerned with the formation of optic images.

  • Fiber optics, which uses fiber to transmit data as light pulses.

From everyday items like eyeglasses and cameras, to complex telescopes and spectrometers, optics is responsible for many important innovations. Light even has the potential to improve quantum computing. Learning optics basics could help position you at the forefront of this research field.

Optics | Introduction Image

Optics course curriculum

Optics is a complex and vast field, and new learners may want to start with introductory courses that can help build important foundational skills before moving on to more complicated topics. Classes might begin by covering the nature of light and geometric optics, principles of light propagation, and human vision.

After familiarizing yourself with some of the more basic concepts within optics, you’ll be better prepared to explore subjects like:

  • Spectroscopy: How prisms disperse light into a spectrum.

  • Optical instruments: Microscopes, telescopes, and cameras.

  • Light polarization: The reflection, transmission, and filtering of light.

  • Lasers: Operation, types, and applications across industries.

Finally, you can round out your education with advanced coursework focused on nonlinear optics, quantum information, interferometry, holography, and other modern optical technologies.

Start building the knowledge you need to work in the optics field with edX. From accelerated boot camps to comprehensive programs that allow you to earn a bachelor’s degree or (for more advanced learners) a master’s degree, there are many different learning formats available to fit your needs. Busy professionals can even take advantage of executive education courses tailored to those in leadership and management positions. Find the right course for you.

Explore optics jobs

Optics is a multidisciplinary field that intersects with engineering, materials science, and electronics. This opens up a wide range of career opportunities for interested individuals with relevant skills. Some of those roles include:

  • Optical engineer: Designs and develops optical systems, such as lenses, mirrors, and laser systems.Footnote 1

  • Photonics engineer: Designs and develop devices that use photons for various applications, such as telecommunications, medical devices, and laser systems.Footnote 2

  • Laser engineer: Focuses on the development and maintenance of laser systems for various applications, including medical, industrial, and research.Footnote 3

  • Marketing specialist: Creates compelling campaigns and messaging for companies that manufacture and sell optical products and instruments.Footnote 4

  • Optical consultant: Offers consulting services to companies in need of optical expertise for specific projects or problems.Footnote 5

Each of these roles will have different education and skills requirements. For example, some employers may seek candidates with a degree in engineering, depending on the role. Before deciding on a specific learning path, research the positions you hope to pursue and align your coursework with your career goals.

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