Modern optics encompasses the areas of optical science and engineering that became popular in the 20th century. These areas of optical science typically relate to the electromagnetic or quantum properties of light but do include other topics. A major subfield of modern optics, quantum optics, deals with specifically quantum mechanical properties of light. Quantum optics is not just theoretical; some modern devices, such as lasers, have principles of operation that depend on quantum mechanics. Light detectors, such as photomultipliers and channeltrons, respond to individual photons. Electronic image sensors, such as CCDs, exhibit shot noise corresponding to the statistics of individual photon events. Light-emitting diodes and photovoltaic cells, too, cannot be understood without quantum mechanics. In the study of these devices, quantum optics often overlaps with quantum electronics.
Specialty areas of optics research include the study of how light interacts with specific materials as in crystal optics and metamaterials. Other research focuses on the phenomenology of electromagnetic waves as in singular optics, non-imaging optics, non-linear optics, statistical optics, and radiometry. Additionally, computer engineers have taken an interest in integrated optics, machine vision, and photonic computing as possible components of the "next generation" of computers.
Today, the pure science of optics is called optical science or optical physics to distinguish it from applied optical sciences, which are referred to as optical engineering. Prominent subfields of optical engineering include illumination engineering, photonics, and optoelectronics with practical applications like lens design, fabrication and testing of optical components, and image processing. Some of these fields overlap, with nebulous boundaries between the subjects terms that mean slightly different things in different parts of the world and in different areas of industry. A professional community of researchers in nonlinear optics has developed in the last several decades due to advances in laser technology.
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