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Introduction to Optical Engineering
Optics Suitcase

Now that you have their attention, you are ready to introduce a field of technology called
“optical engineering”.

  • Hold up the silicon wafer (shiny side out) and the large silica lens. Ask if anyone can identify them. [The lens is usually easy. The students will likely refer to the wafer as a mirror.]
  • Identify the wafer as single crystal silicon, a pure elemental substance and the basis for all computers (the chips and microcircuits). Show them the reverse side of the wafer which is dull, and explain that this side is ground and the other is polished to a mirror surface. Some optical engineers develop the technologies for turning rough silicon wafers into integrated circuits for making computer chips. [You may want to elaborate on this.]
  • Hand out copies of the periodic table of elements (useful for 8-9th grade and higher) and help the students locate silicon (#14) and oxygen (#8).
  • State that the periodic table is a visual means for displaying all of the elements known to man - every bit of matter in the universe is composed of one or more of these elements. Ceramic engineers, chemists, materials scientists, geologists, and optical engineers work with many of these elements and the compounds they form.
  • Explain that the only difference between the silicon wafer and the silica lens is oxygen. Point out how a little oxygen turns a visibly opaque material into a visibly clear one. Suggest that if we were aliens whose vision was in the infrared, the silica lens would look opaque and the silicon wafer would look transparent! Mention that optical engineers build lenses into systems that image light, such as the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Telescope, or the new digital cameras that record images on silicon.

Copyright by Stephen D. Jacobs, Rebecca L. Coppens and Christine Andrews-Angelo
December 24, 2001

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This site was last updated June 3, 2005.
URL: http://www.opticsexcellence.org
This site is maintained by the Center for Optics Manufacturing.