A General Explanation of Photonics

Photonics is a field of study that involves light energy with the photon being the fundamental element. Parts of this study include light emission, amplification, transmission and modulation. To better understand photonics, it is best to lay a foundation by briefly examining the characteristics of the photon.

In the photon theory of light, a photon is a quantum of light energy displaying many interesting characteristics. And, as we shall see later, it is these unique characteristics of photons that have enabled photonics to pioneer discoveries that have enhanced and simplified our daily lives and paved the way to many more anticipated breakthroughs in its field.

Photons, in free space, travel at the speed of light. They have no mass but carry energy and momentum. Despite having no mass, they have the ability to have particle-like collisions with electrons and other particles and transfer energy.

To put a slightly more practical face on this information, consider the comparison of photonic applications and electronic applications. Light or photons, travel about ten times the speed as that of electricity. Photonically transmitted data, therefore, can travel greater distances in just a fraction of the time. In addition, whereas the interaction of two electric circuits would cause interference and distortion, visible-light and infrared beams pass through one another without creating any type of interference. One optic fiber could carry three million telephone calls simultaneously, a quantity inconceivable by any measure with a single electrical wire.

There are few aspects of daily life where photonics has not had some degree of influence. Consider just the laser, a product of photonics research, and its varied and abundant uses. Lasers are used in the constructions trades for leveling and range finding. In the industrial manufacturing sector, lasers are used for cutting, welding, drilling and surfacing applications. In medicine there is laser surgery and in entertainment there are laser light shows. Photonic research has also led to fiber optic telecommunications, photonics gyroscopes in the aviation field, information processing and endless military defense and command and control uses.

Some devices, born of photonics research, that we use almost daily, would include barcode scanners at our local store, and even in our own home in the form of remote control devices, CD, DVD or Blu-ray players and laser printers.

The afore mentioned applications are but a small sampling of how photonics research has produced a certain codependency with society. There are new and exciting emerging fields utilizing phonic research that will establish photonics as a cooperating partner with life in the generations to come. Photonic computers are but a hint at what lies ahead partnering with this amazing research field.
This article was provided by Precision Photonics, a photonics and optics company based in Boulder, CO.