BSc Physics with Astrophysics

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Introduction to Photonics

Course unit fact file
Unit code PHYS20612
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Department of Physics & Astronomy
Available as a free choice unit? No


Introduction to Photonics


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Vibrations & Waves PHYS10302 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Electromagnetism PHYS20141 Pre-Requisite Compulsory


This course introduces the concepts of photonics (the application and use of light in modern technologies) by discussing 4 broad themes, that of the properties of light, the production of light, the detection of light and how information is encoded using light and different applications of these technologies. The course builds on the foundations laid in the 1st year and leads onto more advanced courses in lasers and photonics in later semesters. Short and long questions on various aspects of the course (with solutions) will be given during the course. All material will be available on Blackboard and on the school teachweb pages.

Learning outcomes

On completion of the course students should understand:

• the nature of light and how to manipulate it for applications in photonics and related disciplines

• how light can be produced and how the properties of light can be determined

• how light can be used in communications systems

• application examples which have evolved from photonic techniques.


Syllabus (lectures not necessarily in this order)

1. Nature of light and how it is manipulated (7 lectures) Wave descriptions (spectrum, superposition, interference effects), photon effects (photoelectric effect, momentum, interaction with matter). Characteristics of light (polarization, coherence, monochomaticity), ways to define these mathematically (Stokes parameters, Jones vectors & matrices) and how to determine these characteristics.

2. How light is produced – the LASER and LED (8 lectures) Einstein A and B coefficients, rate equations, gain and losses, optical feedback, laser threshold, 3 and 4 level lasers, cavity stability, cavity modes, Gaussian beams. The LED and laser diode, p-n junction, heterojunction and stripe geometries.

3. Detection of light radiation (3 lectures) Light detectors: photomutiplier tubes, photodiodes. Generic system issues: sources of noise and signal-to-noise ratio, limitations on temporal response and effective bandwidth.

4. Transmission and modulation techniques (3 lectures) Delivery methods. Basics of optical fibre techniques: step index fibre; acceptance angles, single and multimode fibres, dispersion limitations, transmission characteristics. Acousto-optic and electro-optic techniques, LED switching, analogue and digital techniques using lasers, AM, FM, phase modulation techniques.

5. Applications (2 lectures) A selection of the following applications will be discussed: Digital communications Display systems (LCD’s, plasmas etc) Range-finding systems and applications (LIDAR etc) More exotic applications (laser trapping, laser tweezering, different forms of measurements) Trends and new directions in photonic applications.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 100%

Feedback methods

Feedback will be available on students’ individual written solutions to examples sheets, which will be marked, and model answers will be issued.

Recommended reading

Milloni, P.W. & Eberly, J.H. Lasers

Smith, F.G. & King, T.A. Optics and Photonics: An introduction (Manchester Physics)

Wilson, J. & Hawkes, J.F.B. Optoelectronics: An introduction (Prentice Hall)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 1.5
Lectures 24
Independent study hours
Independent study 74.5

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Darren Graham Unit coordinator

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