What is Photonics?

As photonics enables an ever greater range of applications we are are often asked ‘what is photonics?‘ The following definition, examples and taxonomy attempt to provide a tiered explanation. for those unfamiliar with sector.

Photonics Definition

Photonics encompasses the technologies, devices, products and processes that generate, transmit, transform, detect and/or manipulate light in any format, colour or location.  Photonics uniquely combines classical and quantum physics, semiconductor, waveguide, nano and bulk optical engineering and materials innovation.

Whilst photonics is the science and technology of working with photons, the basic particles of light, many photonics products and process are based on the wave-like properties of light. Photonics refers to light used in anyway, no matter the underpinning description, frequently leveraging both classical and quantum analysis.

Photonics Examples

Photonics include a vast range of products, devices/components and processes that are more exhaustively covered in the taxonomy below:

  • Machine vision, optical communications, solar power, situation awareness, augmented / virtual reality, laser materials processing, lighting, sensing, spectroscopy, microscopy, bio-photonics, quantum photonics, integrated photonics.
  • Optical fibre, glasses, crystals, lenses coatings, gratings, plasmonics, photonic crystals, metamaterials, waveplates, polarisers, interference, filters, linear & non-linear devices and materials.
  • Lasers, LEDS, amplifiers, displays, florescence sources, plasmas, transceivers, single and multi-photon emitters coherent & incoherent sources.
  • Detectors, sensors, photodiodes, cameras, focal plane arrays, spectrometers and single photon detectors.
  • Visible, Ultraviolet, Infrared, X-Ray and THz spectral ranges.

The applications of these products and processes are as diverse as the product themselves ranging from Healthcare and Energy generation to Communications and Manufacturing.

Photonics Taxonomy

The following taxonomy gives a non-exhaustive list of terms associated with photonics, specifically for those looking to understand the diversity of what is included in photonics. Some segment or areas are associated with multi-billion dollar global markets, others are the subject of extensive scientific study, others the building blocks used throughout the field. Comments for additions and corrections are welcome.

Group terms

  • Light
  • Integrated photonics, silicon photonics, photonic integrated circuits, planar photonics
  • Optic(s) / optical / optoelectronic(s)
  • Photo-
  • Photonics / Photon

Applications with specific photonics terms

  • Astronomy / telescope / Earth observation
  • Augmented / virtual reality
  • Autonomous sensing
  • Bio-photonics
  • Directed Energy
  • Lighting / Solid-state lighting
  • Machine vision
  • Materials processing
    • Laser based cutting, welding , marking, joining, peening, texturing, 3D printing
  • Microscopy / microscope
  • Observation
  • Optical communications,
  • Quantum photonics
  • Situation awareness
  • Solar power
  • Spectroscopy / spectral

Transmission / manipulation / material terms

  • Free-space
  • Glass(es), crystal(s)
    • Doped, infrared, UV, non-linear, frequency conversion
  • Grating, dispersion, filter(s)
  • Interference, interferometric, interferometer
  • Lens(es), windows
    • Spherical, cylindrical, graded index, doublet, aspheric, compound
  • Optical coatings, mirrors
    • Interference, Bragg
  • Photonic Crystals
  • Plasmonic(s)
  • Transmission, reflection, refraction, absorption, loss, amplification, gain, refractive index
  • Waveguide(s), optical fibre, fibre optics, photonic crystal, photonic bandgap,  anti-resonant fibre holey, Bragg, micro structured + fibre
  • Waveplate, polariser

Operating domain / colour / property of light terms

  • Wavelength, waveband, colour, color, spectral, multi-spectral, bandwidth, linewidth
    • Visible,
    • infrared (IR),
      • SWIR, LWIR, MWIR
    • Ultraviolet/ UV,
    • X-Ray
    • Terahertz
  • Polarisation, waveplate, polariser
  • Coherent, coherence, phase, beat-length
  • Non-linear

Light generation/ emission terms

  • Display
    • Liquid crystal, OLED, transmissive, reflective
  • Laser(s), amplifier
    • Fibre, solid-state, pulsed, nanosecond, femtosecond, picosecond, gas, semiconductor, cw / continuous wave
      • GaAs, GaN, InP laser,
  • Light emitting diodes, LEDs, solid state lighting
  • Optical/ sources / emission
  • Single photon
  • Spectral
  • Super luminance, fluorescent, fluorescence, spontaneous
  • Up conversion / down conversion /non-linear

Light detection / capture terms

  • Cameras, focal plane array(s), imaging
    • Semiconductor
      • GaAs, Silicon, LCOS, InP
    • Time of flight,
    • Photon counting
    • Single photon
  • Detector(s), sensor(s)
  • Photodiodes, photo multiplier
  • Photovoltaic(s)
  • Spectrometer, spectrograph

This page is open to comments on additions or modifications to this taxonomy.

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