Why Study Optics

Optics is a fascinating field of study, both for students who are primarily interested in the fundamental questions of nature as well as those who are driven to excel in a technical industrial career. There is a long tradition of optics in science, from ancient times to Newton and Einstein, continuing through many Nobel prizes, and leading to the present. The ability to control light and matter with high precision opens the possibility for new discoveries and inventions, including new lasers, new optical materials, new interactions of light and matter at the quantum level, and new devices in diverse areas ranging from optical communication to optical medicine.

For these reasons, it is anticipated that optics will continue to lead us into the next revolution in technology, driving the creation of new companies and jobs.

Surveys have shown that optics is one of the most in-demand fields for hiring in industry. And there is a strong demand to fill university faculty positions in this area.

 Interdisciplinary Research

At the University of Oregon, we recognize the importance of diversity and breadth in graduate education and continue to respond to the shifts and changes in career opportunities available to our graduates. In pursuit of this goal, we take a cross-disciplinary, interdepartmental approach to research and graduate training.

The OMQ is an example of this interdisciplinary approach.  Faculty in the OMQ are physicists, chemists, experimentalists and theorists.  A multifaceted research approach such as this fosters collaboration and cooperation between research groups. OMQ faculty members and students are actively involved in collaborative research efforts, providing unique opportunities for defining and solving scientific problems.

The OMQ also encourages and maintains relations with companies working in optics. One goal of the center’s PhD program is to facilitate student interaction with the optics industry through internships, workshops, and job entry for graduating PhD students.

 Research at the OMQ

The Oregon Center for Optics encompasses research in basic and applied aspects of optics in physics and physical chemistry. Members of the OMQ are faculty in the Physics and Chemistry departments. Associate Members are from these departments as well as institutions outside of the University of Oregon. Students—undergraduate, masters and PhD—are involved in all aspects of research at the OMQ.

Students wishing to participate in optics-related research in the OMQ enter the university through one of the academic departments, typically Physics or Chemistry, where they pursue course work according to the standards of those departments.

 Broad Array of Research Areas

  • Quantum optics
  • Condensed matter physics
  • Theoretical quantum chaos and semiclassical physics
  • Optical devices
  • Ultracold atoms and atom optics
  • Fluorescence fluctuation and ultrafast laser spectroscopy
  • Quantum information
  • Quantum control
  • Semiconductor optical physics
  • Nonlinear optics and lasers
  • Biophysics

 Exposure to a Wide Range of Research

OMQ, the Department of Chemistry, the Department of Physics and the Materials Science Institute all host visiting scholars from around the nation and the world.   Guest speakers  present their latest findings at weekly seminars. 

The OMQ seminar room, at the heart of the center, hosts both OMQ and Physical Chemistry speakers.  The Physics Colloquium is presented every Thursday in the 100 Willamette auditorium.   

Recent presentations have included world-class researchers from major universities and US and foreign national laboratories.


The Oregon Center for Optics is housed in Willamette Hall, which is a part of six interconnected buildings that form the science complex.  Completed in 1989, Willamette Hall contains 136,000 square feet of laboratory, classroom, and office space.  Centered on the breath-taking four story Olum Atrium and equipped with wireless internet access throughout, Willamette Hall is an inviting space in which to work and study.

The OMQ has state-of-the art lasers and research equipment and access to professionally staffed, machine and electronics shops. 

OMQ students have access to the Shared Laser Facility, a multidisciplinary laser and optics laboratory shared by chemists, materials scientists, optical scientists, and physicists.  The 3,000 square-foot laboratory is centrally located between the Physics and Chemistry departments, reflecting the collegiality and inter-group cooperation, which the facility helps foster.

UO is also home to the newly completed Integrative Science Complex (ISC), housing the Lorry Lokey Laboratories.  The labs contain ultra-sensitive research tools below ground and away from sources of vibration that will be used by partners and researchers to examine materials on a nano scale.  Underneath the lush lawn exterior is a world-class research facility worthy of the excitement and impact it is expected to make on the world of nanoscience and interdisciplinary inquiry.   “From nano to neuro” is their slogan and the facility boasts comprehensive interdisciplinary connections in chemistry, physics, and biology.  OMQ faculty and students are among those who share ISC spaces and equipment.

The science complex also boasts a dedicated Science Library.  The Science Library holds most of the UO Libraries’ materials related to biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, and environmental studies.  The Science Library offers 300,000 volumes and over 3,500 journals dedicated to science.  Far more is available in electronic format.  The Science Library also has an Information Technology Center (ITC), which provides access to graphics, multimedia, and scientific computing applications.

 Graduate Program

For graduate students, optics provides opportunities for research in fundamental areas of physics and chemistry. At the same time, optics also provides an enabling set of technologies for application in the life sciences and industry. It is this unique combination of fundamental science coupled with practical applications that make optics a field that opens many career paths to trained individuals.

Recent PhD graduates (in both physics and chemistry) have gone from the Oregon Center for Optics to positions in teaching, bio-medical research, industry, and optical research.

With graduate student to faculty ratios of 2:1 and 4:1 respectively, the Physics and Chemistry departments at UO offer highly individualized interactions.

Students interested in studying optics apply to the Departments of Physics or Chemistry doctor of philosophy (PhD) degree program. The doctoral program emphasizes research work in addition to course work and generally requires five to six years of graduate study.

 Where are Former Optics Students Now?

Graduates of the OMQ can be found in academia, national labs, and industry.  Recent graduates have pursued postdoctoral research at the University of Oxford, the University of California at Berkeley, Cornell University, the University of Massachusetts, the University of California at Santa Barbara, National Institute of Health, and the University of Colorado at Boulder. 

OCO alumni serve as tenure track faculty at Franklin & Marshall College, the University of Missouri at Columbia, San Diego State University, and Miami University. 

Graduates have also worked or currently work at national labs including Oakridge National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, NIST, and at companies such as Intel, 3M, Infinera, Deep Photonics, Solar Worlds, and Kidde Dual Spectrum.



For admission to graduate study in physics, a bachelor’s degree in physics or a related area is required. Submission of scores on the Graduate Record Examinations including the Physics Advanced Test is strongly encouraged. Students from non-English-speaking countries are required to demonstrate proficiency in English by submitting scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language. See for the online application.


Admission to the Chemistry department’s graduate program is offered to applicants who complete the required application materials and compete successfully for available positions.  The major criterion for admission is a student’s potential for successful completion of a research thesis.  The application is available online at 

Financial Assistance

Financial aid in the form of graduate teaching fellowships is available on a competitive basis to PhD students. Teaching fellowships require approximately 18 hours of work a week and provide a stipend and tuition waiver.

After selecting an advisor and joining a research group  (usually near the end of the first academic year of study) most graduate students are awarded graduate research fellowships by an advisor.  Graduate research fellowships include a competitive stipend, medical insurance and paid tuition.  Research conducted under these appointments is used to satisfy advanced degree requirements.

Most students in optics graduate with a PhD, having acquired no additional education-related debt.