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Photonics is the science of using light to generate energy, detect information, or transmit information. The main purpose of the photonics engineering field is to develop new and innovative products for medicine, telecommunications, manufacturing, and construction. From light that can cut plastic, to ultra-accurate lasers used in delicate eye surgeries, photonics engineers are responsible for significant scientific discoveries.
From creating new and exciting photonics 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.
A photonics engineer is someone who creates and improves 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.
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.
Because large amounts of information can be transmitted quickly and reliably through optical fiber cables, this technology is replacing telecommunications systems that use metal wiring. When working 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. They may also create optical materials that make a factory more energy efficient. At an electronics manufacturer, photonics engineers determine how energy efficient the screens of televisions are by testing crystals. In the military, lasers are used in navigation and to provide range information for weaponry and missile targets. In the medical field, lasers are used in numerous diagnostic and treatment procedures, and to perform delicate surgery on the eye and other parts of the body.
A lot of time is spent researching new developments within their rapidly growing field. Photonics engineers must keep up to date with the findings and research of other engineers. They often attend conferences with other engineers to learn about changes within the world of photonics. When seeking grant money or other financing for their research projects, photonics engineers will write up proposals that show deductive reasoning that demonstrates a higher probability of success than failure.
Most photonics engineers work for large telecommunications firms, optical fiber producers, and manufacturing plants. They generally work in clean, modern buildings. They may also travel to locations where lasers need to be installed and maintained. Work hours are the typical 40-hour workweek, however, overtime is sometimes necessary when deadlines for research projects must be met.
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.
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.