Photonics is the study of how to generate, detect and manipulate light. One of the most important applications of photonics today is fiber-optic communications. The incredibly large data capacity of optical fibers and the very high-speed optoelectronic components form the backbone to our long-distance telecommunications networks. Without optical fiber networks, we would not have the Internet or email, and long distance phone calls would be slow and expensive. Engineers with a photonics background can find careers in optical communications and other emerging technologies.

Students who pursue depth in photonics generalist courses gain a cursory exposure to photonics and optical communications. In addition, students will take a broad selection of courses in electronics, electromagnetics, and communications.

Courses with a photonics research focus prepare students for graduate work in photonics. In advanced studies, graduate students can invent new devices, such as optical switches, lasers and photon sources, communication protocols (e.g. quantum cryptography), and information processing techniques (e.g. quantum information processing).

Courses in microwave photonics address the field of microwave photonics, where microwave frequency signals are converted to light and then processed optically. This is to achieve certain functionality that would otherwise be too cumbersome. Applications include the steering of radiation in state-of-the-art antennas and the distribution of radio frequency signals over optical fibers, to feed and receive signals from remote antennas in a wireless communication system.

Courses in optical electronics gear students toward optoelectronic device engineering. Compared to the photonics generalist and optical communications foci, students take more advanced photonics courses for devices. The study of electronic device physics is important because of the need to design very high speed circuitry and optoelectronic components (i.e., devices that convert electrons to photons, or vice versa).

Courses in optical communications gear students toward systems level study of optical networks. The core photonics courses are combined with core courses in digital and wireless communication as well as signal processing.