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Optics and Photonics


The research program in optics and photonics deals with the design, fabrication, and characterization of materials, devices and systems for the generation, transmission, amplification, detection, and processing of light signals. These are enabling and pervasive technologies applied in fields like communications, sensing, bio-medical instrumentation, consumer electronics, and defense.

The department focuses on optical and quantum computing, RF signal processing, unconventional imaging systems, optical sensors, integrated optics, nanophotonics, optical interconnects, ultrafast micromachining, the design and fabrication of semiconductor lasers, and III-V semiconductor materials and devices.

Undergraduate Courses

ECEN 3320, Semiconductor Devices
ECEN 4106, Photonics
ECEN 4375, Microstructures Laboratory
ECEN 4555, Energy Systems & Devices
ECEN 4606, Undergraduate Optics Lab
ECEN 4616, Optoelectronic System Design
ECEN 4645, Introduction to Optical Electronics
PHYS 1230, Light and Color
PHYS 3340, Introductory Research in Optical Physics
PHYS 4510, Optics

Graduate Courses

ECEN 5645, Introduction to Optical Electronics
ECEN 5156, Physical Optics
ECEN 5166, Guided Wave Optics
ECEN 5345, Introduction to Solid State
ECEN 5355, Principles of Electronic Devices
ECEN 5375, Microstructures Laboratory
ECEN 5555, Energy Systems & Devices
ECEN 5606, Advanced Optics Laboratory
ECEN 5616, Optoelectronic System Design
ECEN 5626, Active Optical Devices
ECEN 5686, Optical Communications Systems
ECEN 5696, Fourier Optics
ECEN 6365 Semiconductor Materials and Devices II*
PHYS 5160, Laser Physics
* Not offered every semester


Graduate students pursuing optics research enjoy over 10,000 square feet of faculty laboratory space in addition to the user-service facility of the NSF-funded Colorado Nanofabrication Lab. All laboratories are equipped with vibration-isolated tables and specialised lasers including (to name just a few): femtosecond Ti:Sapphire, fiber lasers, swept-wavelength external cavity lasers and high-power mid-infrared diodes. Unique capabilities include cryostats for spectral-hole burning crystals used for nonlinear information processing, sputtering systems for deposition of ultra-thin metal/insulator structures, 3D femtosecond laser micromachining for volume diffractive optics, quantitative phase microscopy for study of biological and materials systems, holographic optical trapping for manipulation of cells and nanostructures, 3D direct-write lithographyfor hybrid integrated photonics, synthesis and fabrication tools for plasmonic metamaterials and integrated plasmonic systems for (e.g) cancer detection.

Research Topics

Optics and photonics research spans a huge range of disciplines ranging from communications, biomedical instruments and devices, nanolithography and information processing. A subset of currently-funded research areas are: optofluidics, high-power semiconductor lasers, mid-infrared sources, silicon nanophotonics, light forces at the nanoscale, chip-scale interconnects, sub-diffraction lithography, polymeric optical materials, unconventional imaging and sensing, femtosecond laser nanofabrication, photonic crystals, optical metamaterials, plasmonics, wavefront coded imaging, 3D microscopy, antenna-based solar cells, terahertz-wave detectors, new energy technologies, high-temperature optoelectronics, nanofabrication, optical computing, signal processing, FR photonics, GaAs devices, and fiber optics.

Optics research in the ECEE department is part of the nanostructures and optics research area (see and also the larger, campus-wide program with over 50 faculty and 3 Nobels, as described more fully here:


F.S. Barnes (Ph.D., Stanford), biomedical Engineering, GaAs devices, fiber optics, energy storage.

C. Cogswell (M.Sc., Oregon), wavefront coding and phase-measuring 3D optical microscopy.

J. Gopinath (Ph.D., MIT), high-power semiconductor lasers, spectroscopy, mid-infrared sources, optofluidics.

R. McLeod (Ph.D., Colorado), subwavelength photolithography, hybrid 3D photonic integration, polymer photonics.

A.R. Mickelson (Ph.D., Caltech), guided wave optics, polymer optical devices, plasmonics, nanophotonics, biophotonics.

G. Moddel (Ph.D., Harvard), antenna-based solar cells, terahertz-wave detectors, new energy technologies.

W. Park (Ph.D., Georgia Tech), photonic crystals, optical metamaterials, plasmonics.

R. Piestun (Ph.D., Israel Institute of Technology), superresolution microscopy, computational optical imaging, volume optics, fs laser nanofabrication, nanophotonics.

M. Popovic (Ph.D., MIT), silicon nanophotonics, light-forces-based nano-optomechanical devices and circuits, chip-scale optical interconnects.

B. VanZeghbroeck (Ph.D., University of Colorado), high temperature electronics (GaN, SiC), MEMS and optoelectronics, nanofabrication.

K. Wagner (Ph.D., Caltech), optical computing and signal processing, RF photonics and array processing.

Emeritus Faculty

W.T. Cathey (Ph.D., Yale), wavefront coded optics, human vision.

Current Research Support

The large breadth of research areas is funded by an equally large number of federal and industrial sources including the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Health, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and Department of Defense laboratories. Industrial support ranges from large companies (e.g. Intel) to the many small photonics research firms in the Boulder area (, a large fraction of which spun out of the universitY.

Prospective optics graduate students are encouraged to apply for an NSF-supported fellowship in Computational Sensing and Imaging. The program includes 5 years of support, research rotations within and beyond CU and a focused seminar series. Details and application process can be found here: