Photonics engineers create and improve systems and products that use photonics—lasers, optics, fiber optics, and imaging. They check for efficiency by testing to see if the system functions properly. Photonics engineers shape modern technology by developing experimental products that will eventually be perfected for daily use, including new solar-powered cells for electronics and manufacturing.
From creating new and exciting photonic inventions to writing research proposals and reports, photonics engineers spend their working hours immersed in science and technology that will change the face of the world as it is now.
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Many photonics engineers develop new products that use light to function. When a photonics engineers work in the manufacturing field, they create easier, less time-consuming ways to make products. For example, they may create a laser that can cut through raw materials. Engineers also create optical materials that make the factory more energy efficient. At an electronics manufacturer, photonics engineers determine how energy efficient the screens of televisions are by testing crystals.
Photonics engineers create prototypes to determine whether or not their ideas are plausible. They must create products that can be used daily, and prototypes can give an accurate idea of the usefulness of their work.
Engineers who work with photonics spend much of their time researching new developments within their field. The field of photonics is growing rapidly, with many new discoveries being made every day. Photonics engineers must keep up to date with the findings in the research of other engineers. They must also keep an eye on the news and attend conferences with other engineers to learn about changes within the world of photonics.
Photonics engineers write their own proposals when they are seeking grant money or other financing for their research projects. These proposals must show deductive reasoning that demonstrates a higher probability of success than failure.
The main purpose of the photonics engineering field is to develop new and innovative products for the medical field, telecommunications, manufacturing, and construction. From light that can cut plastic, to ultra-accurate lasers used in delicate eye surgeries, photonics engineers are responsible for some very big scientific leaps and bounds.
Photonics engineers must be able to see things with explicit detail. Their eyes must be able to clearly see things both near and far. They must also be able to easily tell the difference between colors to the extent of being able to distinguish colors that vary in the smallest amount of brightness or shade. Being able to tell the distance between two or more objects with the utmost accuracy and to clearly see objects under bright lights are also important qualifications in this field. Excellent communication skills are a must, as these positions require daily written and verbal communication with clients, subordinates, and superiors.
The minds of photonics engineers should be creative and innovative since they are expected to be able to design and use state-of-the-art equipment throughout the course of their careers. From designing different types of lasers to designing products that will use these lasers to cut with pristine accuracy, creativity is a strong asset that the best photonics engineers possess.
As for educational requirements, photonics engineers must have at least a bachelor’s degree in an engineering area. Electrical engineering, engineering physics, and mechanical engineering are all acceptable fields of study. These degrees take four or five years to complete. For higher paying positions, a master’s degree may be expected, and in some cases a PhD. Photonics engineers that wish to teach at the college level must have attained their PhD within the same field. The same is required for engineers that desire a research and development position within photonics.
Some other fields of study for students considering a career in photonics engineering are nanotechnology, systems engineering, mechatronics, geophysical engineering, robotics, automation engineering, and laser and optical technology.
For high school students considering this as their career path, getting involved in college prep and AP courses could be useful. Taking as many science and math classes as possible, including physics, trigonometry, and calculus, will also help with college studies. Elective courses such as computer classes will ensure that the student is up to date on knowledge of software and other computer-related subjects. Job shadowing, work-study, and internships are also available for dedicated students that have high skill levels in areas related to engineering.
Photonics engineers work in an indoor, team setting that runs on good communication. The photonics field is fueled by successful, innovative project teams that communicate well within the workplace.
In the workplace setting photonics engineers are responsible for the safety of their coworkers, as well as the work completed by their subordinates. In this setting, work must be absolutely accurate. There is no time or money for errors. There are deadlines that must be met, and the workplace of an engineer can be a very competitive place because of this.
The hours of photonic engineers are generally the typical 40-hour workweek; however, the hours can be long when deadlines for research projects must be met.
Photonics design engineers make on average $74,453 annually. The average salary for a photonics engineer is approximately $95,000 per year; however, some photonics engineers’ salaries are much higher depending on the type and location of the facility in which they work. Some companies offer senior photonics engineers positions that pay in excess of $100,000 per year.