Lasers & Photonics

  • Helena Kudiabor
  • May 23 2022

One of the amazing things about physics is the way it has shaped so many different technological developments. One of these is photonics, in which light is used instead of electricity.


What is photonics?

Photonics is when scientists use light to generate energy, and detect or transmit information. Researchers in the field typically use light to perform functions that are typically seen as electronic, such as information processing and telecommunications.

Scientists are even moving closer to replacing electrons with photons in the processor chip. Successfully doing this would lead to faster, more power efficient devices, with reduced cooling demands. 

What is the history of the lasers and photonics industry?

Einstein first laid the groundwork for laser technology in 1917, in his famous article, ‘The quantum theory of radiation.’ The first commercialised lasers began to be sold in the 1960s, to be used for science and surgical procedures. Use of lasers has grown since then, with lasers being used for barcode scanning, information processing via DVDs, and even for space exploration. 

Although innovation and revenue has slowed recently, the industry is now experiencing a new age of innovation. The combination of lasers and optics could put the industry on a high-growth trajectory, and could eventually become its biggest source of revenue.

How is photonics used in the real world?

Photonics is used across several sectors, from manufacturing and life sciences to healthcare, security and imaging. For example, the telecommunications industry uses photonics devices to increase the speed and capacity of internet communications. 

Photonics is also used in advanced lighting technology, such as Solid State Lighting (SSL). The technology provides lighting that is powerful and energy efficient, but affordable at the same time. Replacing incandescent bulbs with SSL technology could save up to 70% of the energy currently consumed! 

Photonics even has the potential to revolutionise healthcare, given light’s ability to detect and measure diseases quickly and accurately. This allows diseases to be diagnosed earlier, improving chances of survival.

What careers are there within the industry?

A career in photonics allows you to develop products that will revolutionise the tech industry. Photonics engineers work to improve products that use photonics, such as fibre optics, optics and lasers. 

Engineers create prototypes to determine whether their ideas are possible, and develop experimental products that will eventually be used daily. 

The field was designed to create innovative products for fields like medicine and construction, by replacing telecommunication systems that need metal wiring. As a photonics engineer, you could find yourself designing light that cuts through materials, designing lasers for diagnostic procedures or creating optical materials to make factories more energy efficient.