Optics For Kids - About Scientists and Optical Engineers

Scientists and Optical Engineers Use Light

Aren't scientists and engineers the same thing?
Not quite. Though they use many of the same ideas and methods, scientists and engineers are somewhat different.

What do scientists want?
Scientists want to know how the universe works. They may see it as an enormous jigsaw puzzle to solve for its own sake. Some things they find are useful right away, others not (though much of what scientists have found in the past has turned out to be useful in some way). Though they certainly want to help people, their major goal is understanding, not usefulness.

What about engineers?
Engineers try to use the facts of science and math to do things that are useful to people. Many engineers are designers -- designing the many products that we use in the world, from computers to cars to camera lenses.

What do they have in common?
Quite a few things, actually. Scientists and engineers both use the facts and methods of science, and both often use MATH and COMPUTERS in their work.

Some Questions Scientists Might Ask About Light

  • What is light?
  • How is light produced by matter?
  • Why are things different colors?
  • Why is the sky blue?
  • Why do some things reflect lots of light and others very little?
  • Why are some things transparent?
  • How and why does light bend?
  • How fast does light travel?
  • Is light a particle, a wave, or something else?
  • Why does light change some materials?

Have more questions? Try going to a Web search site such as Google and typing the question there (try "physics FAQ"). Or visit Scientific American's "Ask the Experts." (Links open a new window)

Careers in Light

The world needs scientists and engineers!
Scientists and engineers are important members of our society. We need science and technology to live in the modern world -- to have products we want, to communicate, to travel, to understand and protect the environment, and much more. See this video, "Optics: Light at Work". The first half of this video provides an upbeat, interesting, and informative orientation to the career of optical engineering and science. Examples of real world applications and examples of exciting new technologies are provided - nanomedicine, space telescopes, invisibility, and solar energy.

What do they do?
Scientists and engineers are important members of our society. We need science and technology to live in the modern world -- to have products we want, to communicate, to travel, to understand and protect the environment, and much more.

What about math?
Math is important, but good reading and writing skills, common sense, curiosity, and general knowledge are also important. You need to have four or more years of college to be an engineer or scientist (most scientists and many engineers go to graduate school after college to increase their knowledge and get advanced degrees).

There are many other related careers!
Optics (optical science) and optical engineering are specialized but very useful and interesting fields, though there are many, many other areas too.

What is it like working with lenses?
Visit this Canon website to see how a lens is made. Learn about different types of lenses (optical glass lens, fluorite lens, ultra low dispersion lens, and spherical/aspherica lens), and the people who make them. Courtesy of Canon.

What Did We Learn?

  • Optics is the science of light
  • Devices that control light are common and important in our daily lives
  • Many optical devices use lenses and lasers
  • Scientists and engineers use similar facts and methods (like math and computers), but their goals are different
  • Science or engineering can really be fun!