Optical Physicist Job Description

  • Helena Kudiabor
  • Aug 15 2023

Optics refers to the study of light, its behaviour and properties. Most people think of visible light when they think of light, but optical physicists research all other types of light, such as ultraviolet, x-rays and microwaves. By understanding how these different types of light work, optical physicists can develop and improve different optical devices.


What is an optical physicist?

Optical physicists, also known as optical scientists or optical engineers, work with objects that use light technology. They apply their understanding of light, its properties and functions, to improve efficiency in different industries. The telecommunication, healthcare and manufacturing industries all benefit from the work of optical physicists. 

What do optical physicists do?

Optical physicists can choose to specialise in a subsector of optics, such as telecommunications or fibre optics. Many even specialise in the development of specific products, such as fibre optic cables, medical lasers and cameras. All of these products need light to function.

Typical responsibilities of an optical physicist include: coming up with optical solutions to solve gaps in the industry or technical issues, working out which materials and tools to use to build optical products, testing and refining prototypes and maintaining and repairing existing optical products. 

What skills do I need to be a successful optical physicist?

Attention to detail is key in this role. The products you’ll be working with will be very complex and intricate, so you’ll need to work slowly and carefully. Signing off on faulty products could have ramifications for the company you’re working for, as well as your professional reputation. You’ll also need good time management skills, as many of the products you’re working on will have a set date that they should be completed by, so that they can be sold. Finally, innovation is important, to come up with solutions for technical issues and make your products stand out.

How do I become an optical physicist?

It’s recommended that you have a master’s degree in the field, be it in optical science, physics, engineering or a related subject. While there aren’t any optical physics apprenticeships as of yet, an engineering technician, optical assistant or laboratory technician apprenticeship will help you learn more about the field, via a fully funded qualification.

Who are some notable optical physicists?

Notable optical physicists include: George Biddell Airy, who designed the first correcting eyeglasses and was the first to highlight astigmatism; Ernst Abbe, who developed numerous optical instruments and contributed to lens design; and Anna Estelle Glancy, who improved the optics of glasses, cameras and other optical instruments, while being the only female scientist in lens design.