Optics is a special branch of physics that deals with light, its properties, and how it interacts with matter. Optics engineers then take this information and create something useful from it. It’s been often said that the difference between scientists and engineers is that scientists only dream about doing wonderful things…..engineers do them. But to give scientists the respect they deserve, and with all respect to Thomas Edison and his light bulb, because of science, we know that light has properties of both waves, and particles, and this knowledge has been used to create wonderful gadgets that would’ve been impossible otherwise. Without science, fabricating precision optical components would be impossible.
Precision Optical Components Made for Astronomy, Engineering, Photography & Medicine
Precision optical components are used extensively in the fields of astronomy, engineering, photography, and medicine. Typical everyday uses of precision optical components include binoculars, telescopes, microscopes, bar-code readers, fiber optics, and more… Precision optical components are critical for the proper functioning of things like LASERS, and military aircraft targeting systems. The smallest error could be the difference between bombing a tank or a church. In medicine, precision optical components are used in optometry (glasses and contact lenses), diagnostic equipment, and surgery. Even law enforcement is getting into the act, with precision optical components used in new scanners designed to read car license plates, and bar codes on drivers’ licenses and identification cards, which may even contain DNA information.
Another field where precision optical components are getting a lot of use these days is in Intelligence. The days of James Bond and Wild Bill Donovan are long-gone. Today, the Spook World is dominated by computer geeks and technicians who control a network of spy satellites orbiting hundreds of miles above the Earth, which are rumored to be able to take a picture of someone smoking a cigarette, and show what brand it is. This is probably a slight ‘exaggeration’, but it is common knowledge that the precision optical components used in these satellites are so good that they can read a car license plate from high-orbit. Not bad at all……
LASERS (Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation) are used extensively in the modern world. LASERS have a very intense need for precision optical components because their tolerances are so tight. LASERS are used in CD/DVD Players, fiber-optic communications, bloodless surgery, eye surgery, LASER capture microdissection, missile defense systems, electro-optical defense systems, and more….
In classical optics, there are two philosophies:
- Geometric optics: Light is regarded as a straight line, or ‘ray’. The ‘rays’ are governed by the law of reflection/refraction, which states that a full-spectrum light beam crossing the boundary between two transparent surfaces, such as water, or a prism, will split into two parts, one reflective, and one refractive. It looks like this- sin ϴ1 = n
- Physical Optics: Light is considered as a wave. This is used to calculate things like the Speed of Light (c= 186,000 miles per second), and the visible spectrum of light in wavelengths ( 400-700 nm), and can predict phenomena like interference and diffraction.
Both approaches are used in precision optical component manufacturing. And the future looks bright. Engineers are already working on using integrated optics, photonic computing, and machine vision for use in the next generation of computers. It is certain that the need for precision optical components will increase greatly in the years to come.