- "Optical" redirects here. For the musical artist, see Optical (artist).
- See also: List of optical topics
Optics (appearance or look in ancient Greek) is a branch of physics that describes the behavior and properties of light and the interaction of light with matter. Optics explains and is illuminated by optical phenomena.
The field of optics usually describes the behavior of visible, infrared and ultraviolet light; however because light is an electromagnetic wave, analogous phenomena occur in X-rays, microwaves, radio waves, and other forms of electromagnetic radiation. Optics can thus be regarded as a sub-field of electromagnetism. Some optical phenomena depend on the quantum nature of light and as such some areas of optics are also related to quantum mechanics. In practice, the vast majority of optical phenomena can be accounted for using the electromagnetic description of light, as described by Maxwell's Equations.
Optics, however, as a field is often considered largely separate from the physics community. It has its own identity, societies, and conferences. The pure science aspects of the field are often called optical science or optical physics. Applied optical sciences are often called optical engineering. Applications of optical enginering related specifically to illumination systems are called illumination engineering. Each of these disciplines tends to be quite different in its applications, technical skills, focus, and professional affiliations.
Because of the wide application of the science of "light" to real-world applications, the areas of optical science and optical engineering tend to be very cross-disiplinary. Optical science is a part of many related disciplines including electrical engineering, physics, psychology, medicine, and others. Additionally, the most complete description of optical behavior, as known to physics, is unnecessarily complicated for most scenarios so particular simplified theories are used. These limited theories adequately describe subsets of optical phenomena while ignoring behavior irrelevant and/or undetectable to the system of interest.
Before Max Planck suggested that light is quantized, optics consisted mainly of the application of electromagnetism and its high frequency approximations to light. Classical optics divides into two main branches: geometric optics and physical optics.
Geometric optics, or ray optics, describes light propagation in terms of "rays". Rays are bent at the interface between two dissimilar media, and may be curved in a medium in which the refractive index is a function of position. The "ray" in geometric optics is an abstract object which is perpendicular to the wavefronts of the actual optical waves. Geometric optics provides rules for propagating these rays through an optical system, which indicates how the actual wavefront will propagate. Note that this is a significant simplification of optics, and fails to account for many important optical effects such as diffraction and polarization.
Geometric optics is often simplified even further by making the paraxial approximation. The mathematical behavior then becomes linear, allowing optical components and systems to be described by simple matrices. This leads to the techniques of Gaussian optics and paraxial raytracing, which are used to find first-order properties of optical systems, such as approximate image and object positions and magnifications.
Gaussian beam propagation is an expansion of paraxial optics that provides a more accurate model of coherent radiation like laser beams. While still using the paraxial approximation, this technique partially accounts for diffraction, allowing accurate calculations of the rate at which a laser beam expands with distance, and the minimum size to which the beam can be focused. Gaussian beam propagation thus bridges the gap between geometric and physical optics.
Physical optics models the propagation of complex wavefronts through optical systems, including both the amplitude and the phase of the wave. This technique, which is usually applied numerically on a computer, can account for diffraction, interference, and polarization effects, as well as aberrations and other complex effects. Approximations are still generally used, however, so this is not a full electromagnetic wave theory model of the propagation of light. Such a full model would (at present) be too computationally demanding to be useful for most problems, although some small-scale problems can be analyzed using complete wave models.
- Fabrication and testing (optical components)
- Fermat's principle
- Fourier optics
- Gradient index optics
- Optical lens design
- Optical resolution
- Ray (optics)
- Ray tracing
Modern optics encompasses the areas of optical science and engineering that became popular in the 20th century. These areas of optical science typically relate to the electromagnetic or quantum properties of light but do include other topics.
- Circular dichroism
- Crystal optics
- Diffractive optics
- Guided wave optics
- Integrated optics
- Jones calculus
- Non-imaging optics
- Nonlinear optics
- Optical modeling and simulation methods
- Optical pattern recognition
- Optical processors
- Quantum optics
- Statistical optics
- Thin-film optics
Other optical fields
- Color science
- Illumination engineering
- Image processing
- Information theory
- Linear optics
- Machine vision
- Materials science - optical properties
- Optical communication
- Optical computers
- Optical data storage
- Optical display system
- Pattern recognition
- Photography (science of)
- Thermal physics - radiative heat transfer
- Visual system
Optics is part of everyday life. Rainbows and mirages are examples of optical phenomena. Many people benefit from eyeglasses or contact lenses, and optics are used in many consumer goods including cameras.
- Hecht, Eugene (2001). Optics (4th ed.), Pearson Education. ISBN 0805385665.
- Serway, Raymond A.; Jewett, John W. (2004). Physics for Scientists and Engineers (6th ed.), Brooks/Cole. ISBN 0534408427.
- Tipler, Paul (2004). Physics for Scientists and Engineers: Electricity, Magnetism, Light, and Elementary Modern Physics (5th ed.), W. H. Freeman. ISBN 0716708108.
- Optics.net - Optical Engineering forum and resource directory
- Optics Book - an online textbook
- Optics & Photonics - SPIE's Optics & Photonics Symposium, held annually, features optics and photonics research, training, and an exhibition.
- Optics2001 - Optics library and community