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Optical and Laser Technology

Optical and laser technology is a scientific field that seeks to harness and manipulate the powers of light and lasers. Learn about career possibilities, salary information, education requirements and related degree programs.

Is Optical and Laser Technology for Me?

Career Overview

Optical and laser technology covers a wide field of research and development using equipment and techniques, such as optoelectronics, photonics, optical fibers, optical metrology, interferometry, materials processing, optical computing and laser safety. Optical and laser technology also combines cutting edge technology and knowledge from scientific branches such as engineering, medicine and physics.

Several careers can allow you to work with, design and oversee optical and laser technologies, including those of engineering technicians, physicists, electrical engineers and materials engineers. Careers in this field may require hands-on use of integrated circuit testers, power saws, semiconductor process systems and interferometers to assemble, manipulate, control and adjust fiber optical systems, lasers and their components.

Employment and Earning Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for engineering technicians was $59,440 as of May 2012 (www.bls.gov). During that same year, physicists, electrical engineers and materials engineers earned median annual wages of $106,840, $87,920 and $85,150, respectively.

The BLS also reports that the number of jobs for electrical and electronic engineering technicians in general is projected to remain roughly the same from 2012-2022, while employment of physicists is expected to increase 10% during that same decade. The number of jobs for electrical engineers is expected to grow 5% from 2012-2022; materials engineering jobs are predicted to increase 1%.

How Can I Work in Optical and Laser Technology?

Education

In high school, it may help to take as many classes as possible in mathematics, biological sciences, chemistry, physics, electronics and engineering. Next, you can enroll in an Associate of Applied Science in Laser Electro-Optics Technology or a related degree program. Approximately two years in length, associate degree programs like this are hands-on programs that prepare you to work with computer data collection and analysis, electronics and various laser systems as a technician in settings like medical research labs or physics laboratories that test new and existing laser technologies. You can also enroll in a certificate of completion program, which can take 1-2 years to complete, depending on the school.

As a student in these programs, you can learn to align laser and optical systems, work with electronics, analyze experimental data and work with analog and digital electronic systems. You can complete both theory and laboratory classes in topics like electronic drafting, optoelectronics, geometric optics, photonics safety, mathematical analysis and semiconductor components.

If you want to advance in the field of optical and laser technology, you could pursue a bachelor's degree in physics, a bachelor's degree in engineering or another degree in an appropriate field. If you wish to conduct independent research while utilizing optical and laser technology, you will have to earn a doctoral degree in your area of interest, such as engineering. Engineers must complete a course of study accredited by ABET and a 2-part test in order to be licensed, which may also be required for some jobs.