Optical Materials and Devices

Track Information


Physics, Electrical Engineering, Biophysics, and related disciplines


Master of Science (MS) in Applied Physics


6 months coursework + 9 months paid internship


Summer Term: February 15*

Track Description

Optics is the branch of physics that utilizes both simple and sophisticated instruments to study, measure and influence how photons propagate through and interact with matter. The field of optics is critical to the technology found in our modern lives - computers, smartphones, medical equipment and many other 21st century amenities we often take for granted. Optical engineers and scientists use their technical knowledge to develop and operate metrology tools (instruments designed to take high-precision, non-contact measurements). These tools are used in applications ranging from the life sciences to the semiconductor industry; to build laser writing and cutting tools that revolutionize our ability to mass manufacture advanced technology; and contribute to cutting edge research and development activities impacting the fields of medicine, defense, microelectronics, and astronomical observation.  

Students in this track typically have a bachelor’s degree in physics, electrical engineering,  biophysics, applied physics or related disciplines and will earn a Master of Science in Applied Physics with an emphasis in Optical Materials & Devices.

To learn more about the career paths of alumni, check out our partner list and alumni bios or contact us.

Common industrial and national lab job titles and general descriptions of roles that span the microelectronics, communications, medicine, imaging, and defense industries are provided below.

*This program will continue to accept applications after February 15. Applicants should reach out to Recruitment Director, Lynde Ritzow at lynde@uoregon.edu to determine enrollment availability. All programs begin coursework during the summer rather than fall term.

Common Industrial and National Lab Job Titles

Students who complete the optics track work in a wide variety of engineering roles within the life sciences, semiconductor, and defense sectors, as well as peripheral sectors such as next-gen computing and autonomous vehicles. Alumni from this track develop skills which have been successfully transferred to a wide variety of engineering and management roles in manufacturing, hardware development, materials research, analytics, software development and research and development. A selection of roles is highlighted below.

Optical Engineer or Scientist: Designs and builds systems that combine photonic, electronic, mechanical and thermal components plus software improvements to build tools for a specific application. Example: Increases the throughput of a cell imaging microscope, called a flow cytometer, through hardware integration and improvement of the image analysis code that does the counting.

Laser Engineer or Scientist: Designs, prototypes, analyzes and optimizes laser systems. Example: Quantifies and qualifies the beam quality improvements of a 20 Watt UV nanosecond pulsed laser after the addition of a prototype component is introduced that may better withstand the extreme conditions of the laser system.

Application Engineer: Optimizes a specific optical instrument, such as a laser cutter, for different applications. Example: Use Design of Experiments and the knowledge of laser matter interactions to optimize a recipe for cutting thin layers of copper in a fiber glass substrate (PCB) to make smaller interconnects for the microelectronics industry


Research and Development Scientist: Researches and develops technology that require the application of optical phenomena. Example: Design, prototype and test a specific laser, collection and detector array combination which can be attach to an autonomous flying drone to map out a specific agricultural commodity, such as almonds, for strategic agriculture.

Optical Metrologist: Measures and characterizes the properties of materials and environments using light as the primary measurement tool. Example: Utilizes a state-of-the-art instrument to measure 3D surfaces with sub-angstrom resolution for high tech manufacturing quality assurance.

Vision Systems Engineer and Scientist: Uses computational and photonic tools to create systems that can remotely sense the environment. Example: Integrates new laser and detector combinations to improve the speed and spatial resolution of LiDAR imaging system for autonomous vehicles.

Student and Alumni Success Metrics


Historical graduation rate


Average annualized internship compensation in 2020


Graduates who are employed in their field within three months


Largest physics master’s program in the US (2017, 2018, 2019)


Summer and Fall Terms
Over the summer and fall terms, students complete core coursework, electives and professional development (the equivalent of 6 applied physics classes, plus professional development).
Between the summer and fall term, students have the opportunity to interview with company partners during the program’s Annual Networking event. The majority of internships are lined up during this event with internships typically beginning in the winter term.

Winter, Spring, and Summer Terms
The majority of students fulfill their internship component through employment beginning in January and ending in September. In this scenario, students enroll in 10 internship credits per quarter during the winter, spring and summer terms.

The majority of optics students complete their master’s degree in 15 months.


Students in the Optical Materials and Devices track complete a total of 55 credits broken down as follows:

  • Core courses: There are four required, core courses for a total of 16 credits.
  • Elective courses: Students select and complete two elective courses for a total of 8 credits.
  • Professional development: All students complete a one-credit professional development course.
  • Internship: The culmination of the curriculum is three terms of internship credits for a total of 30 credits.

Details about the curriculum are provided in the sections below.

Graded Coursework (Summer and Fall Terms)
Students develop critical hands-on technical training and foundational knowledge through curricula specifically informed by industry.

  • PHYS 626: Physical Optics w/Labs (4 Credits, Graded)
    Students will learn how to derive theoretical descriptions of various optical components and systems from first principles. By building and optimizing optical systems (beam expanders, interferometers, optical cavities, isolators, etc.) using a host of optical components (mirrors, lenses, gratings, beam splitters, etc.), students learn how to control the flow of electromagnetic radiation through space.
  • PHYS 627: Optical Materials & Devices (4 Credits, Graded)
    The second lecture & lab course covers the fundamental principles and practical operation of optoelectronic tools such as photodiodes, light emitting and laser diodes, digital cameras and numerous other devices commonly found in an optics laboratory. Theoretical topics are introduced in lecture covering the inner workings of these devices while time in lab is used to learn the proper handling, operation and characterization of optoelectronic devices that emit and detect light.
  • PHYS 628: Lasers & Nonlinear Optics w/OpticStudio (4 Credits, Graded)
    This course introduces optical phenomena that require the laws of quantum mechanics and nonlinear dynamics. Students are introduced to the fundamentals of light and matter interactions with an emphasis on laser operating principles. Students will then study the physics and applications of nonlinear optics including a formal definition of the nonlinear susceptibility, which is related to the index of refraction. We will specifically look at applications to generate or modulate light. Students will build and simulate optical systems in OpticStudio, a widely used software package in the optics industry.
  • PHYS 610: Advanced Projects Lab (4 credits, Graded)
    In this final core course, students work in pairs to apply their recently gained knowledge on a five-week project. Students choose a project which allow them to deepen their experience in a field they have found interesting during the previous three courses. The advanced projects lab gives students a chance to work on open-ended projects that reflect the experiences commonly had by students during their internships. Examples of past projects include: the design and construction of a double-clad high-power continuous-wave fiber laser, Erbium-doped fiber amplifier, high-power ultrafast fiber laser, fiber dispersion characterization tools (modal and temporal dispersion), optical tweezers – and building various semiconductor optical metrology tools.
  • Electives: PHYS or related discipline Graduate Electives (8 credits, Graded)
    Students further specialize or broaden their knowledge through 8 credits of elective coursework (the equivalent of two UO courses). Popular electives include: Design of Experiments, Electron Microscopy, Introduction to Surface Analysis and Electron Probe Microanalysis. Students may also opt to complete their elective requirements at institutions outside of UO. If this option is of interest, please reach out to Lynde Ritzow at lynde@uoregon.edu.

Professional Development (Summer Term)
No matter how long you’ve been out in the world, working well with other people is the key to success in all facets of industry – regardless of the sector. Hands-on training in communication, leadership and teamwork are program differentiators that have led to 20+ years of success in launching the careers of students. Through a 1-credit course, activities infused throughout the technical coursework, and workshops, students gain the know-how to accelerate their careers.

  • CH610: Professional Communication in Science. (1 Credit, Pass/No Pass)
    Students learn and apply foundational skills critical for career progression of scientists and engineers. Core elements include: composing a competitive resume; sharing impactful answers during behavioral and technical interviews; and building a strong professional network.

Internship (Typically Winter, Spring and Summer terms)
Students complete paid, 9-month, master’s level internships as part of their degree requirements.

  • PHYS 601: Internship (Total of 30 credits at 10 credits/term. Pass/No Pass)
    Within an industrial or national lab setting, students gain hands-on experience in the application of their knowledge. Each term, students write a review paper (to be approved by their supervisor) to demonstrate advancement of technical knowledge. Additionally, at least one formal evaluation hosted between the student, their supervisor and UO instructor will be conducted (typically at the 4-6 month mark of the internship).


The Knight Campus serves as a home base for instruction, personal belonging storage and lounging for students in the optics track. Hands-on lab training occurs in the Lewis Integrative Science Building where students have a dedicated lab space that allows them to gain the hands-on skills necessary to be successful in industry and national labs. The optics lab includes:

  • 13 large optical tables large (4’ x 8’ x 1’) giving every student plenty of space to work.
  • >$200,000 of optics hardware such as lenses, mirrors, diffractive optics, translation stages, opto-mechanical components, etc. that allow students to build numerous experimental setups, reinforcing the content learned in the class room.
  • >$100,000 of electronics such as oscilloscopes, spectrum analyzers, signal analyzers, function generators, pulse generates, power supplies, current drivers, multimeters, piezo stage drivers and nearly $10,000 in electronic components which allow students to build custom circuits.
  • A variety of lasers – from eye-safe to 100w to homebuilt. Students initially train on eye safe lasers (HeNe and diode lasers) and subsequently work their way up to more powerful lasers such as a Synrad CO2 lasers (100W), two Coherent 365nm nanosecond pulsed lasers (2W), two 532nm nanosecond lasers, a  Clark femtosecond Ti:Sapphire laser (1W), nLight solid state emitting diode lasers (5W) and numerous homebuilt fiber lasers.
  • $80,000 of optical characterization equipment which includes an autocorrelator, M2 tool, beam profilers, spectrometers, power meters and other tools which students will use to quantify the performance of light emitting sources.
  • $50,000 of fiber optics equipment for student to practice industry-common techniques such as free-space coupling setups, fusion splicers and countless fiber optic components that can be combined to make lasers and sensors based on this technology.
  • A variety of custom-built setups include 2 optical tweezers, 2 quantum optics experiments, fiber optic gyroscopes, optical-cryostat stations and numerous fiber laser systems which students work on for their final projects. More details can be found at https://june.uoregon.edu/

Information on additional core facilities, such as CAMCOR, that students access through core or elective coursework can be found on the Facilities page.


The program has multiple subject-matter experts who serve as instructors. Recent instructors include:

Dr. Nima Dinyari, Director of Optical Materials & Devices Track, Knight Campus Graduate Internship Program
Dr. Bryan Boggs, Associate Professor, Dept of Physics University of Oregon
Dr. Brian Smith, Senior Lecturer, Dept of Physics, University of Oregon
Dr. Shannon Mayer, Professor, Dept of Physics, University of Portland
Dr. Dave McCintyre, Professor, Dept of Physics, Oregon State University


Competitive applicants have previous research experience, industry experience or project-based coursework experience; strong math and computational skills; and upper division undergraduate coursework in electrodynamics and quantum mechanics. Prior experience in optics is not necessary, but is beneficial. Please note that these are recommendations; we are happy to answer questions about your competitiveness for this program as all students bring different experiences.

In recognition of the financial impact of the pandemic and the program's commitment to accessible education, we are waiving the application fee for all domestic applicants applying for Summer 2021 by the priority deadline (February 15). Full application instructions should be reviewed prior to beginning an application.

This track will continue to accept applications after February 15. Applicants should reach out to Recruitment Director, Lynde Ritzow at lynde@uoregon.edu to determine enrollment availability. All programs begin coursework during the summer rather than fall term.