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Optics Physicist


Description

It is said that Superman moves faster than the speed of light. Yet how does one measure the speed of light? And what does the speed of light mean? From the days of Sir Isaac Newton and his discovery of light reflection and the prism, optics has become a pure and applied area of physics. It has fascinated physicists, spawning entirely new industries, including fiber optics, medical imaging and lasers. All of these technologies have relied on light obeying the laws of optics and behaving in a highly predictable way. Optics physicists have been studying this phenomenon for years and years, attempting to explain why light, its sources and effects behave as they do.

Send a beam of light into a block of glass, as Newton first did, and it always bends in a certain direction. But in recent years, physicists have been able to build materials that bend the light in the opposite direction. They are creating amazing new technological discoveries using fiber optics for telephones, cable systems and the Internet and creating eyeglasses to help dyslexic children. In order to complete such studies, optics physicists work with scientists in many other fields such as engineering, biology, chemistry, geology, mathematics and computer science in combination to find the best possible results.

Optics physicists must be able to think creatively and scientifically when coming up with experimental ideas. Understanding optics and light speeds not only leads to a more profound understanding of the physical world, but also supplies the world with the insight to develop new and innovative ideas. The technologies and devices that so influence our daily lives are based upon, and in many cases conceived from the laws of optics physics. Optics physics is one of the most fascinating and intellectually challenging fields of scientific study. The laws of optics are fundamental to all physical sciences and related fields such as medicine, engineering, electronics, and telecommunications science.

Optics physicists design and perform experiments with lasers, cyclotrons, telescopes, mass spectrometers, and other equipment designed by pioneering optics physicists. Based on observations and analysis, they attempt to discover and explain laws describing the forces of nature in relation to optical technology. Optics physicists also find ways to apply physical laws and theories to problems in optics communications, fiber optics and medical instrumentation. Their research in fiber optics, for example, plays a key role in the production of commercial products.

Optics physicists that specialize in research write scientific articles and present their work at international conferences. An integral part of being a successful optics scientist is keeping up on the current technological trends and scientific studies in the field. Optics physicists who work as professors teach undergraduate and graduate university courses and supervise and guide the work of technical staff and graduate students.
 
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  Interests and Skills  
Optics physicists must have an aptitude for physics and mathematics, and be able to pay close attention to detail. Most are fascinated with the way our physical world works in relation to the speed of light and optical technology. Optics physicists must enjoy working with others as members of a team, while at the same time working alone the ability to reflect on and contemplate larger scientific ideas.

They should have excellent writing and computer skills, and patience and curiosity of the physical world. Successful optics physicists should enjoy synthesizing information and finding innovative solutions to problems, using sophisticated instruments and equipment to perform tasks requiring precision, and supervising the work of others.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Design and conduct research in experimental, theoretical and applied physics
  • Carry out analysis of research data and prepare research reports
  • Participate as a member of a research or development team in the design and development of experimental, industrial or medical equipment, instrumentation and procedures
  • Conduct research to understand fundamental processes in nature and find practical applications
  • Provide support services for activities such as radiation therapy, diagnostic imaging or seismology
  • Conduct experiments with radiation, light, sound, heat, electricity and magnetism
  • Use the experiments to test and prove ideas, and to help develop new ideas in physics
  • Design, build and test experimental equipment and instruments
  • Write reports on study results and present this information at conferences
  • Write papers for scientific journals
  • May develop new materials, processes or technologies
  • May work with medical doctors on radiation treatment in cancer patients
  • Optics physicists generally work in laboratories, classrooms or offices. They may also work outdoors conducting experiments. Optics physicists generally work standard workweeks, with longer hours when deadlines or experiments are looming. Travel is often required to conferences and seminars.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Optics physicists work for fiber optics companies, electronic, electrical and aerospace manufacturing companies, telecommunications companies, power utilities, university and government research laboratories, hospitals, science museums and by a wide range of other processing, manufacturing, and research and consulting firms.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Employment opportunities for optics physicists vary depending upon what type of degree they have. Those with bachelor's and master's degrees are more likely to be employed in design and development, teaching at the high school or college level, and administration or sales. Physicists with PhDs are more likely to be involved in basic or applied research and teaching at the university level.

Advancement opportunities vary depending on the place of employment and type of work done by each individual optics physicist. Optics physicists involved in research, or research and development may become project supervisors, directors of research laboratories or managers of research departments. Some may eventually move into purely administrative or management positions. Another option is becoming a scientific writer or working at a science museum.
 

  Educational Paths  
Most optics physicists begin their postsecondary education with a four-year Bachelor of Science degree in physics, and then go on to earn a master's and a PhD degree in optics physics or a sub-discipline of physics. Optics physicists who wish to do original research generally need to obtain a PhD and spend one to five years in post-doctoral research in a university or government laboratory.
 

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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