Optical Engineer Career Information - IResearchNet (2023)

Optical engineers apply the concepts of optics to research, design, and develop applications in a broad range of areas. Optics, which involves the properties of light and how it interacts with matter, is a branch of physics and engineering. Optical engineers study the way light is pro­duced, transmitted, detected, and measured to determine ways it can be used and to build devices using optical technology.

Optical Engineer Career History

The study of the properties of light began during the 1600s when Galileo built telescopes to observe the planets and stars. Scientists, such as Sir Isaac Newton, conducted experiments and studies that contributed to the understanding of light and how it operates. Among Newton’s many experiments was his work with prisms that separated sunlight into a spectrum of colors. Christiaan Huygens, a Dutch physicist, also conducted impor­tant studies to develop a theory that concerned the wave properties of light.

During the 1800s, other physicists and scientists per­formed research that confirmed Huygens’s theory and advanced the study of light even further. By the mid-1800s, scientists were able to measure the speed of light and had developed means to show how color bands of the light spectrum were created by atoms of chemical elements. In 1864, a British physicist, James C. Maxwell, proposed the electromagnetic theory of light.

Optical Engineer Career Information - IResearchNet (1)Two of the most important discoveries of the 20th century were the development of lasers and fiber optics.

The first laser was built by an American physicist, Theo­dore H. Maiman, in 1960. In 1966, it was discovered that light could travel through glass fibers, which led to the development of fiber optic technology.

Optics, the branch of science that studies the manipu­lation of light, is a growing field. Engineers today work in applications that include image processing, information processing, wireless communications, electronic tech­nology (including compact disc players, high-definition televisions, and laser printers), astronomical observation, atomic research, robotics, military surveillance, water-quality monitoring, undersea monitoring, and medical and scientific procedures and instruments.

Optical Engineer Job Description

Optical engineers may work in any of the many subfields or related branches of optics. Three of the largest areas are physical optics, which is con­cerned with the wave properties of light; quantum optics, which studies photons, or individual particles of light; and geometri­cal optics, which involves optical instruments used to detect and measure light. Other subfields of optics include integrated optics, nonlinear optics, electron optics, magneto-optics, and space optics.

Optical engineers combine their knowledge of optics with other engineering concepts, such as mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and com­puter engineering, to determine applications and build devices using optics technology. Opti­cal engineers design precision optical systems for cameras, telescopes, or lens systems. They determine the required specifi­cations and make adjustments to calibrate and fine-tune opti­cal devices. They also design and develop circuitry and compo­nents for devices that use opti­cal technology. Some optical engineers design and fabricate inspection instruments to test and measure the performance of optics systems. In designing this equipment, they test that all parts perform as required, diagnose any malfunctioning parts, and correct any defects. Together with electrical and mechanical engineers, they work on the overall design of systems using optical components.

In creating a new product using optical technology, optical engineers go through a multistep engineering process. First, they study the application or problem to understand it thoroughly. Then they brainstorm to come up with possible solutions to the problem. After devel­oping a creative concept, engineers transform it into a design or several designs. They work out all of the details and create a computer-generated model or test unit. This model or unit is tested, and any required revisions to the design are made and tested again. This process continues until the design proves satisfactory. The design is then sent to production, and a product is manufactured. The process is completed with marketing of the product.

For some products, an engineer may perform all of these steps except marketing. Other products require a team of engineers and may include other professionals such as industrial designers, technologists, and technicians.

Some optical engineers specialize in lasers and fiber optics. These engineers, also known as fiber optics engineers and laser and fiber optics engineers, design, develop, modify, and build equipment and components that utilize laser and fiber optic technology. Lasers are used to produce extremely powerful beams of light that can be transmitted through fiber optics, which are hair-like strands of plastic-coated glass fibers. Using this technology, lasers can cut through material as hard as a diamond, travel over long distances without any loss of power, and detect extremely small movements. Lasers also can be used to record, store, and transmit information.

These engineers may be involved in testing laser sys­tems or developing applications for lasers in areas such as telecommunications, medicine, defense, manufacturing, and construction. For example, lasers are used in surgical procedures and medical diagnostic equipment. They are used in manufacturing industries to align, mark, and cut through both metals and plastics. Military applications such as navigational systems and ballistic and weapon systems use laser technology. Other areas where optical engineers use lasers include robotics, holograms, scan­ning, compact discs, and printing.

Fiber optics engineers may specialize and work within a specific area of fiber optic technology. They may work with fiber optic imaging, which involves using fiber optics to transmit light or images. These engineers also use fiber optics to rotate, enlarge, shrink, and enhance images. A second area of specialization involves working with sensors. These engineers work with devices that measure temperature, pressure, force, and other physical features. A third type of specialization is in communi­cations, where fiber optic networks allow voice, data, sound, and images to be transmitted over cables. This is used in telephone systems, computer networks, and undersea fiber optic communications systems.

Optical engineers use many different types of equip­ment to perform their work. Among them are spec­trometers, spectrum analyzers, digital energy meters, calorimeters, laser power meters, leak detectors, and wattmeters.

Optical Engineer Career Requirements

High School

While in high school, take physical science, physics, chemistry, geometry, algebra, trigonometry, calculus, social studies, English, composition, and computer sci­ence classes. Courses in computer-aided design are also helpful. Honors classes in science and mathematics are recommended.

Postsecondary Training

A bachelor’s degree in engineering is required to become an optical engineer. Most engineering programs take four or five years to complete. Many students also receive advanced degrees, such as a master’s of science degree or a doctorate degree, as they are required for higher-level positions.

There are about 120 colleges and universities in the United States and approximately five in Canada that offer classes in optics. Only a very small number of schools, though, offer programs that grant degrees in optical engineering. Most colleges offer degrees in a related field, such as electrical engineering or physics, with a special­ization in optics.

Because each college program is unique, classes in optical engineering may be offered through various departments, such as physics, electrical and computer engineering, electronic and electrical engineering, elec­tronics and photonics imaging, optical engineering, or optical science. Some schools emphasize the engineering aspects of optics, whereas others focus on optical science or the research aspects of optics. Optical science varies from optical engineering in that it is more concerned with studying the properties of light and its interaction with matter than in developing applications that utilize optical technology.

Classes vary based on the type of program, but they generally include intensive laboratory experience and courses in mathematics, physics, chemistry, electronics, and geometric and wave optics. Advanced courses may include electrooptics, lasers, optical systems design, infrared systems design, quantum mechanics, polariza­tion, fiber optics communication, and optical tests and measurement.

Some colleges require internships or cooperative work programs during which students work at a related job for one to three semesters. Alternating study with work experience is an excellent way to gain on-the-job experience before graduation and can lead to employ­ment opportunities upon graduation.

A high number of students receive master of science degrees, which generally take two years of additional study beyond a bachelor’s degree. Those who plan to work in research generally earn doctorate degrees, which take four years of additional study beyond a bachelor’s degree.

Because the types of programs vary, you should thoroughly research and investigate as many colleges as possible. SPIE, the International Society for Optical Engineering, provides a detailed directory of colleges and universities offering optics courses and describes programs and requirements in depth.

Certification or Licensing

All states require engineers to be licensed. There are two levels of licensing for engineers. Professional engineers (PEs) have graduated from an accredited engineering curriculum, have four years of engineering experience, and have passed a written exam. Engineering graduates need not wait until they have four years experience, how­ever, to start the licensure process. Those who pass the Fundamentals of Engineering examination after gradu­ating are called engineers in training (EITs), engineer interns, or intern engineers. The EIT certification usu­ally is valid for 10 years. After acquiring suitable work experience, EITs can take the second examination, the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam, to gain full PE licensure.

Other Requirements

To become an optical engineer, you need to have a strong foundation in mathematics and physics as well as an inquisitive and analytical mind. You should be good at problem solving, enjoy challenges, and be methodical, precise, and attentive to details. You should be able to work well both individually and with others.

Exploring Optical Engineer Career

Students interested in optics can join science and engi­neering clubs that provide opportunities for experimen­tation, problem solving, and team building activities. These clubs provide good grounding in science and math principles and the skills students will need as engineers. Ask your science teacher if you can arrange an indepen­dent study project. Another way of exploring is through conducting simple experiments on the properties of light. Books on optics often provide instructions for experi­ments that may be done with a minimum of equipment. Contact your school or local library for books and other resources to explore.

College students may wish to consider joining a stu­dent chapter of a professional association such as SPIE or the Optical Society of America. Participation in asso­ciation events provides an excellent means to meet with professionals working in the area of optical engineering and to learn more about the field. In addition, member­ship may include a subscription to trade magazines that include interesting and informative articles on optics. Although these associations do charge membership fees, they are relatively inexpensive for college students.


Optical engineers work for companies that produce robotics. They also work in laboratories, hospitals, and universities, as well as in telecommunications and con­struction. Companies that employ optical engineers can be found in all geographic areas of the country, although some areas have a higher concentration than others. Employers in areas along the Atlantic coast, from Boston to Washington, D.C., and in large metropolitan areas around cities such as San Jose, Los Angeles, Dallas, Hous­ton, and Orlando provide many opportunities for optical engineers.

Starting Out

Some students work part-time or during the summer during their college years as laser technicians, optics technicians, or in another related technician job. This work experience is not only a valuable learning tool, but it may lead to a full-time employment offer once they complete their education.

Students in an undergraduate or graduate program can learn about job openings through internships or cooperative programs in which they have participated. College placement offices can also be a source of job leads. Professional associations also provide information on companies that are seeking optical engineers. In many cases, new graduates research companies that hire optical engineers and apply directly to them.


Optical engineers with a bachelor’s of science degree often start out as assistants to experienced engineers. As they gain experience, they are given more responsi­bility and independence and move into higher-ranked positions. Engineers who show leadership ability, good communication skills, and management ability may advance to project engineers, project managers, team leaders, or other management positions.

Engineers often return to school to obtain advanced degrees, such as a master’s or doctorate degree. With advanced training and experience, they can move into more specialized areas of engineering. Some engineers move into areas of research and become principal engi­neers or research directors. Engineers may also become college professors or high school teachers.

Some engineers move into sales and marketing. Sell­ing optical devices requires a depth of technical knowl­edge and the ability to explain the features and benefits of a product. Many engineers, after having spent years designing products, are well equipped for this type of work.

Other optical engineers go into business for them­selves, either becoming consulting engineers or starting their own design or manufacturing firms.


Salaries for optical engineers are similar to those of elec­trical and electronics engineers. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the median annual earnings of electrical engineers were $73,510 in 2005. The lowest paid 10 percent earned less than $47,750, and the highest paid 10 percent earned $110,570 or more.

Optics engineers can expect to be paid highly for their expertise, partly due to the fact that the demand for their highly technical skills outweighs the supply. According to a salary survey by Payscale.com, median salaries for opti­cal engineers ranged from $63,000 to $97,000 in 2005.

Companies offer a variety of benefits, including medi­cal, dental, and vision insurance; paid holidays, vacation, sick leave, and personal days; life and disability insurance; pension plans; profit sharing; 401(k) plans; and tuition assistance programs. Some companies also pay for fees and expenses to participate in professional associations, including travel to national conventions, annual meet­ings, and trade shows.

Work Environment

Optical engineers generally work in comfortable sur­roundings—usually offices or laboratories. Most facili­ties are equipped with modern equipment and computer workstations. Most engineers work five-day, 40-hour weeks, although overtime is not unusual, particularly when working on a special project. Some companies offer flexible work policies in which engineers can sched­ule their own hours within certain time periods. Most engineers work with other engineers, technicians, and production personnel.

Optical Engineer Career Outlook

Employment of optical engineers is expected to grow at a healthy rate through the coming decade. At present, there are more openings for qualified engineers than there are available engineers to fill these positions, so opportuni­ties should be plentiful.

Applications that utilize optics technology are grow­ing steadily and should provide opportunities in many different industries. The use of fiber optics in telecom­munications is expanding, providing opportunities for engineers in the cable, broadcasting, computer, and tele­phone industries. New applications are being developed in many other areas, such as the medical and defense fields. The increasing use of automated equipment in manufacturing is also providing opportunities for optical engineers, particularly in applications involving robotics technology.

For More Information:


Is optical engineering a good career? ›

Outlook. Employment of optical engineers is expected to grow by 4 percent, about as fast as the average for all occupations, through 2028, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Applications that utilize optics technology are growing steadily and should provide opportunities in many different industries.

What does optical engineer do? ›

What do Optical Engineers do? Optical engineers make use of optics to solve problems and to design and build devices that make light do something useful. This requires them to understand and apply the science of optics in substantial detail, in order to know what is physically possible to achieve.

What are 2 career opportunities in the field of optics? ›

Optics Jobs
  • Application Engineer.
  • Business Development Manager.
  • Camera Design Researcher.
  • CMOS Characterization Engineer.
  • Coating Technician.
  • Electrical Engineer.
  • Electro-Optical Engineer.
  • Engineering Manager.

Are optical engineers happy? ›

Based on 43 responses, the job of Optical Engineer has received a job satisfaction rating of 4.18 out of 5. On average, Optical Engineers are highly satisfied with their job.

What is optical career? ›

Optician jobs are to use prescriptions provided by optometrists or ophthalmologists and therefore do not check the sight or prescribe visual improvement medicines. An optician is a technician qualified to design and check fit eyeglass lenses and frames, contact lenses and other eye-correcting devices.

What is optical engineering degree? ›

Optical Sciences & Engineering (Biomedical Optics Track)

Lenses, lasers, telescopes, cameras and communications are all part of optical engineering, which has applications ranging from medical imaging to space exploration. Optical engineers specialize in light manipulating systems.

Do optical engineers make glasses? ›

Whether you wear contact lenses or opt for glasses, optical engineers have developed those lenses. Lenses work through refraction: the beam of light is focused through refraction within a lens. Depending on what needs to be focused, lenses can be concave or convex.

Which career has the best scope in future? ›

In this article, you will learn about the top 10 best career options in the future.
  • Data Scientist.
  • Data Analyst.
  • Blockchain Developer.
  • Digital Marketer.
  • Cloud Computing Professional.
  • Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Expert.
  • Manager (MBA)
  • Software Developer.
4 Oct 2022

Why is it important to study optics? ›

The study of optics has led scientists to produce ground breaking inventions like the laser and the holograph. Optics allows for a wide range of modern research topics. The Institute's current research topics include: Optical and quantum information processing.

What type of engineering is optical engineering? ›

Optical engineering is the field of science and engineering encompassing the physical phenomena and technologies associated with the generation, transmission, manipulation, detection, and utilization of light.

What are optical skills? ›

8 Skills the Best Optical Technicians Should Have
  • Ability to Anticipate the OD's Needs. This could be the most important skill on the list. ...
  • Understanding of Medical Terminology. ...
  • Excellent Communication Skills. ...
  • Problem Solving Skills. ...
  • Knowledge of Products. ...
  • Knowing The Boundaries. ...
  • Customer Service Experience. ...
  • CPOA Certification.
19 Jul 2021

What is an optical technician called? ›

Optician. Opticians are technicians trained to design, verify and fit eyeglass lenses and frames, contact lenses, and other devices to correct eyesight. They use prescriptions supplied by ophthalmologists or optometrists, but do not test vision or write prescriptions for visual correction.

Why do engineers wear goggles? ›

It's important to wear protective glasses anytime you're in a hazardous environment. Safety glasses can protect your eyes from debris and splashes while being comfortable and even stylish.

Are Opticians in demand? ›

Job Outlook

Employment of opticians is projected to grow 4 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Is optics electrical engineering? ›

Electro–optics is a branch of electrical engineering, electronic engineering, materials science, and material physics involving components, electronic devices such as lasers, laser diodes, LEDs, waveguides, etc.

Is optometrist is a good career? ›

Optometry is a great career choice for many reasons—including work-life balance, the ability to help others and opportunities for growth.

What does optical stand for? ›

OPTIC is an acronym, standing for Overview, Parts, Title, Interrelationship, and Conclusion.

What is a optical person? ›

: a person who reads prescriptions for correction of vision, orders, prepares, and sometimes grinds lenses for eyeglasses, sells eyeglasses and contact lenses, and fits and adjusts eyeglasses compare ophthalmologist, optometrist.

What is the qualification of optician? ›

They are fully qualified to work with customers to find the eyewear that suits their needs based on a prescription ordered by an eye doctor. You can become an optician by earning an optician certificate, getting a related associate degree, or serving an apprenticeship.

How many years does it take to become an optical engineer? ›

A bachelor's degree in engineering is required to become an optical engineer. Most engineering programs take four or five years to complete. Many students also receive advanced degrees, such as a master's of science degree or a doctorate degree, as they are required for higher level positions.

Can blind people be engineer? ›

Like blind people in many professions, each blind engineer must work out his or her preferred methods. The subject needs to be given considerable attention by blind people preparing to attend college in a wide variety of fields.

What are the two types of optical? ›

There are two major branches of optics, physical and geometrical. Physical optics deals primarily with the nature and properties of light itself. Geometrical optics has to do with the principles that govern the image-forming properties of lenses, mirrors, and other devices that make use of light.

What are optics examples? ›

The study of optics has led to the development of devices such as eyeglasses and contact lenses, telescopes, microscopes, cameras, binoculars, lasers, and optical fibres (see fibre optics).

What are optics uses? ›

Optics is the study of light and how it moves through different media. Studying visible light can be used to extend human vision and do other tasks. Understanding the behavior of light was essential for the invention of optical instruments such as microscopes, telescopes, and cameras, in addition to optical fibers.

Which field is best after 5 years? ›

Here are the most in-demand jobs, including average salaries and qualification requirements.
  • Operations research analyst. ...
  • Financial advisor. ...
  • Health services administrator. ...
  • Registered nurse. ...
  • Web developer. ...
  • Physical therapist. ...
  • Information security analyst. ...
  • Statistician.
20 Jul 2020

Which career is best for girl? ›

Top 10 Best Career Options For Women And Girls In India 2022
  1. Human Resources. A highly sought-after corporate job in the present-day world is the Human Resource Manager. ...
  2. Doctor. ...
  3. Data Scientist. ...
  4. Fashion Designer. ...
  5. Journalist. ...
  6. Banker. ...
  7. Career Counselor. ...
  8. Interior Designer.

Which field has good salary? ›

Data Scientist is one of the highest paying jobs in India, with the national average salary for a Data Scientist being ₹11,00,000. Experienced data scientists can earn as high as 60-70 lakhs per annum.

What are the basics of optics? ›

Fundamentals of Optics - An Introduction for Beginners
  • 1.0 Historical Overview. ...
  • 2.0 Propagation Characteristics of Light. ...
  • 2.2 Interference. ...
  • 2.3 Diffraction. ...
  • 2.3 Refraction. ...
  • Optical Image Formation and Optical Systems. ...
  • 3.1 Optical Image Formation. ...
  • 3.1 Optical Elements.
31 Jan 2001

Who is the founder of optics? ›

Ibn Al-Haytham: Father of Modern Optics.

Why is optical technology important? ›

Optics technology is conventionally known and highly demanded in telecommunication technologies. Common examples of conventional applications are the transmission of telephone and television signals and providing Internet communication.

What are the 4 major engineering categories? ›

In broad terms, engineering can be divided into four main categories – chemical, civil, electrical and mechanical engineering.

What are the 4 optical instruments? ›

Let's look at the optical instruments list:
  • Eyes.
  • Lenses.
  • Magnifying glass.
  • Telescope.
  • Microscope.

Who cuts lenses for glasses? ›

Ophthalmic laboratory technicians must know and understand how to use machinery. They cut, grind, edge and finish lenses according to specifications provided by dispensing opticians, optometrists and ophthalmologists. They also may insert lenses into frames to produce finished glasses.

What is an eye doctor called? ›

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who specializes in eye and vision care. Ophthalmologists differ from optometrists in their levels of training and in what they can diagnose and treat.

Why does OD mean right eye? ›

OD means “right eye.” OD is the traditional abbreviation used for the right eye because it's short for oculus dexter, which means “right eye” in Latin.

Is it hard to become an optical engineer? ›

To become an optical engineer, you need to have a strong foundation in mathematics and physics as well as an inquisitive and analytical mind. You should be good at problem solving, enjoy challenges, and be methodical, precise, and attentive to details. You should be able to work well both individually and with others.

What type of engineer makes the most money? ›

In terms of median pay and growth potential, these are the 10 highest paying engineering jobs to consider.
  • Systems Engineer. ...
  • Electrical Engineer. ...
  • Chemical Engineer. ...
  • Big Data Engineer. ...
  • Nuclear Engineer. ...
  • Aerospace Engineer. ...
  • Computer Hardware Engineer. ...
  • Petroleum Engineer.
24 Mar 2022

Do opticians make a lot of money? ›

Opticians earn less than the average worker in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary for opticians is $37,570 per year.

Which engineering is the hardest? ›

Chemical engineering

Which engineering course is best for girl? ›

best engineering courses for girls
  • IT and computer science.
  • Engineering in Electronics and Communication.
  • engineering or biotechnology.
  • Engineering in Electrical.
  • Engineering in Chemical.

How do optical engineers use physics? ›

They design and operate optical equipment that uses the properties of light using physics and chemistry, such as lenses, microscopes, telescopes, lasers, sensors, fiber optic communication systems and optical disc systems (e.g. CD, DVD).

Can optometrist be rich? ›

The top-earning optometrists work in physician offices with a median annual salary of $124,600. Those who work in health and personal care stores, meanwhile, earn $120,060 and those who work in optometrist offices earn the lead at $112,190 per year.

What is eye doctor called? ›

An ophthalmologist is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the eye. Ophthalmologists may prescribe and fit eyeglasses and contact lenses and also treat eye diseases with drugs and surgery.

Is optician job hard? ›

Becoming an optician is an extremely difficult yet rewarding process, as it requires significant in-depth training. This process takes 2-3 years of hands-on training to complete. It also requires testing to verify you have the skills and knowledge needed to successfully dispense glasses and contact lenses.

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