Photonics Careers

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A career in photonics is essentially a career in optical engineering, the other branches being illumination engineering and optoelectronics. Optoelectronic devices are based on various quantum mechanical properties of light. A job designing lasers, for example, is in optoelectronics because lasers operate on the quantum principle of stimulated emission. A career in photonics means working on the generation, emission, transmission, modulation, signal processing, switching, amplification, detection, and sensing of light. The term photonics emphasizes that photons are neither particles nor waves and developed as an outgrowth of the first practical semiconductor light emitters invented in the early 1960s and optical fibers developed in the 1970s. Photonics jobs involve technical applications of light over the whole spectrum from ultraviolet to visible to the near, mid, and far infrared. Most jobs, however, involve the visible and near infrared light.

There are many jobs in the design and manufacture of semiconductor light sources like light-emitting and super luminescent diodes (LEDs and SLDs), fluorescent lamps, and cathode ray tubes (CRTs). A growing source of career opportunities is in plasma display panels (PDPs), which are used in TVs. A thin film transistor liquid crystal display (TFT-LCD) is a variant of liquid crystal display (LCD) that uses thin film transistor (TFT) technology to improve image quality. TFT-LCDs are used in television sets, computer monitors, mobile phones and computers, handheld video game systems, personal digital assistants, navigation systems, and projectors. There are also jobs in organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) and light emitting polymer (LEPs), which are types of LEDs. CRT, PDP, and OLED displays generate their own light, but LCDs require a backlight, which is comprised of either cold cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFLs) or LEDs.

A career in photonics could also concentrate on transmission media, like glass fibers or plastic optical fibers (POFs). There will be many job offers to someone who can develop new photonic crystals and photonic crystal fibers. Optical devices, such as doped fiber amplifiers (DFAs), semiconductor optical amplifiers (SOAs), and Raman amplifiers, are needed used to amplify an optical signal. Photo detectors range from very fast photodiodes (PDs) for communications applications to charge coupled devices (CCDs) for digital cameras to very slow solar cells that are used for harvesting energy from the sunlight. Modulation of a light source is used to encode information on a light source. Modulation can be achieved by modulating the light source directly. One of the easiest examples is to use a flashlight to send Morse code.

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