Optoelectronics is an area of physics and engineering that deals with devices and systems, which are based on the interaction of light with matter. While this area only began to grow rapidly after the discovery of the laser, optoelectronics is not equivalent to laser physics.  As we shall see during this course, there is more to optoelectronics than meets the eye (pun intended).  Optoelectronics is often linked with fibre optic communications, the technology that is revolutionising telecommunications at a breathtaking rate. But optoelectronics is also the driving force for a range of new technologies in a wide spectrum of fields, from medicine to remote sensing, from material science to optical computing. 

In this course we shall review four basic areas of optoelectronics:

  • fibre optics and optical communications;
  • fibre optic sensors and their applications;
  • semiconductor based optoelectronic devices including laser diodes and light-detectors, and optical modulators; 
  • basic principles of non-linear optics. 

While these topics do not cover all the subjects generally associated with optoelectronics, they do cover major areas presently identified with this field.

This is an introductory level course.  It does not aim to examine all aspects of every topic, nor does it deal with the topics in great theoretical detail.  Instead, we shall emphasise the basic principles underlying each area, and aim to highlight the important concepts and devices in the given area.

Assumed knowledge

Optoelectronics relies on a number of disciplines, most importantly optics and solid-state (semiconductor) physics. It is expected that students enrolled in this course have some understanding of these areas.  However, where necessary, we shall either provide a short review of the required material or refer you to the appropriate reading material.

Course contents

Week 1

Introduction to optical fibres

Week 2

Optical fibre waveguides

Week 3

Attenuation in optical fibres

Week 4


Week 5

Introduction to optical communications systems

Week 6

Optical fibre sensors and applications

Week 7

Semiconductor fundamentals

Week 8

Semiconductor materials and junctions

Week 9

Semiconductor light emitting devices

Week 10

Optical detectors

Week 11

Modulation and switching of light, non-linear optics

Week 12

Student seminars

About the course

Week 1 introduces you to the physics underpinning fibre optics. We shall define the various terms, discuss the history of fibre optics and review parts of electro-magnetic theory that is necessary to understand optical wave-guiding.

Week 2 we shall give details of various optical fibres, fibre materials and the manufacture of optical fibres. 

Week 3 deals with attenuation in optical fibres. We shall discuss the causes of attenuation in optical fibres, and talk about ways to reduce the overall losses in optical fibres.

Week 4 discusses dispersion in optical fibres.  In addition to attenuation, it is dispersion that determines the key characteristics of communications grade optical fibres.

Week 5 reviews the current trends in optical communication systems, including wavelength division multiplexing and related issues.

Week 6 deals with fibre optic sensors.  Based on our understanding of optical fibres from the previous lectures, in this week we shall discuss a number of active and passive fibre optic sensors and sensor applications.

Week 7 is the beginning of our journey into semiconductor physics and optoelectronic devices.  We shall review the fundamentals of the band theory of solids; it is essential to understand this in order to grasp the workings of optoelectronic devices.

Week 8 deals with the optical properties of semiconductors.  We shall discuss in some detail the properties of various optoelectronics materials and junctions

Week 9 deals with the details of various types of semiconductor light emitting devices, including various laser diodes types

Week 10 gets into the details of various types of light detectors, and looks at the question of the figures of merit and sources of noise in detectors

Week 11 describes the electro-optic and acousto-optic effects that underlie some of the key light modulators and switches that are in use today, and other non-linear effects.

Week 12 student seminars.


The field of optoelectronics is changing so rapidly that it is difficult to find one complete textbook.  Some of the topics that were essential a few years ago are today 'ancient history', while techniques or materials that are important today are not covered even in books published very recently.  Having said that, a practical and enjoyable textbook that covers many of the topics that we shall discuss is:

S.O. Kasap: Optoelectronics and Photonics, Principles and Practices (Prentice Hall, Isbn 0-201-61087-6).

A good reference book (not textbook) is: Optoelectronics, An Introduction (3rd edition) by J. Wilson and j.f.b. Hawkes (Prentice Hall, Isbn/Issn: 013103961x)

A helpful general introduction to the section on optical fibres is Understanding Fiber Optics by J. Hecht (Prentice Hall, 1999 ISBN 0-13-956145-5)


Throughout the course we shall solve several example problems in class.  These exercises aim to help you understand specific topics and provide you with an order of magnitude estimates for the magnitude of various phenomena.

Your assessment tasks

There are two assignments, a mid-session test and a final exam for this course. The dates and percentages for each assessment task are given in the table below:

Assignment 1*

Week 12


Assignment 2**

Week 12


Mid-session test***










* Assignment 1: in class present a 15-20 minutes long seminar on your research topic.  The topic of your research will be chosen jointly with your lecturer

** Assignment2: write a research paper on your research project. (The paper has to be submitted on or before the last day of session.  No late assignments will be accepted.)

***Mid-session test: One-hour test on a date specified by the University

****Exam: Two-hour exam on a date specified by the University

About the author

The Optoelectronics course is being taught by Professor Mike Gal. Mike is Professor of Physics and coordinator of the Optoelectronics and Photonics programs at the School of Physics of the University of New South Wales. In his 25 years as an academic, he has worked at several universities in Europe and the USA, and was consultant to numerous industrial and research organizations. His research interest is in semiconductor optics and solid-state physics.  He is author of a book, over 150 research publications and a number of patents.

Learning outcomes

When you have completed this course, you should be able to:

  • explain the basic principles that underlie fibre optics
  • describe various types of optical fibres, fibre optic devices and systems and their properties
  • discuss the advantages of fibre optic sensing, describe various fibre optic sensors and typical applications
  • describe the workings of various semiconductor light emitting devices and detectors, as well as optical modulators and switches
  • discuss the fundamentals of non-linear optics, in particular opticalharmonic generation.
  • discuss the fundamentals of semiconductor physics which are responsible for the properties of the various optoelectronic materials, junctions and semiconductor nano-structures

In addition, in this course you will

  • get an opportunity to present a scientific seminar in front of your peers, and hence test and improve your oral communications skills
  • get experience in writing a research paper.

Further Information

For more information about PHYS3720 contact:

last updated 1st February 2011