PHYS 424: Classical and Modern Optics (Winter 2012)

Instructor: Daniel A. Steck
Office: 277 Willamette      Phone: 346-5313      email:
Office hours: walk-in and by appointment
Course home page:

Schedule: MWF 9:00-9:50, 318 Willamette
Course reference number: 26821
Credits: 4
Prerequisites: PHYS 353, MATH 281-2 or equivalents

Links: news, course notes, homework sets and keys.

Course overview

This course will provide a broad overview of geometric optics, wave optics, and laser physics. See the tentative syllabus below for a preliminary list of topics we will cover.

Texts: There is no required textbook for this course. Course notes will be posted on this site as the term progresses; they may be downloaded all at once here, but this document may be updated during the course.

There are many other excellent standard optics texts that you may find useful for this course, such as:


Grades for the course will be based on homework, two mid-term exams, and a final exam. The relative weights will be as follows:

Homework: this is a homework-intensive course. Homework will be assigned weekly and each assignment will be due in class one week after it is assigned. Thereafter, late homework will be accepted, but at a 25% penalty for each 24 hour period it is turned in late. Partial assignments may be turned in, and only the late portion will be penalized. The relative contribution of each homework assignment to the final grade will depend on its difficulty.

Mid-term exam 1: in class, Wednesday, February 8.

Mid-term exam 2: in class, Wednesday, February 29.

Final exam: The final exam will be held Wednesday, March 21, 10:15-12:15, in 318 Willamette.

Pass/fail grading option: a passing grade requires the equivalent of a C- grade on all coursework (homework and final).

Computer access

Some of the homework will require access to a computer for basic calculations (in low-level languages such as C or Fortran, or any of several higher-level packages such as Mathematica, Maple, Matlab, Octave, Mathcad, etc.) and basic plotting (e.g., GNUplot, Excel, etc.). I will use Mathematica for examples because of its availability at UO, but it is not necessarily the best choice for any particular problem. Contact the instructor as soon as possible if you do not already have access to such resources.


Monday Wednesday Friday
9 January
Review of Linear Algebra
11 January
Ray Optics: Fermat's Principle
13 January
Ray Optics: Matrix Formalism
16 January
No Class: MLK Day
18 January
Ray Optics: Resonator Stability
20 January
Review of Fourier Analysis
23 January
Review of Electromagnetism
25 January
Wave Optics: Interference and Interferometers
27 January
Wave Optics: Paraxial Wave Equation and Gaussian Beams
30 January
Wave Optics: ABCD Law for Gaussian Beams
1 February
Wave Optics: Hermite-Gaussian Beams
3 February
Wave Optics: Resonator Transmission
6 February
Wave Optics: Spherical-Mirror Resonator Modes
8 February
Midterm Exam 1
10 February
Polarization Optics: Jones Vectors
13 February
Polarization Optics: Fresnel Relations
15 February
Thin Films: Reflection Model
17 February
Thin Films: Matrix Formalism
20 February
Thin Films: Coating Design
22 February
Polarization Optics: Birefringent and Active Media
24 February
Review of Fourier Analysis II
27 February
Fourier Optics: Diffraction
29 February
Midterm Exam 2
2 March
Fourier Optics: Image Formation
5 March
Fourier Optics: Holography
7 March
Review of Fourier Analysis III
9 March
Optical Media: Absorption and Dispersion
12 March
Optical Media: Kramers-Kronig Relations
14 March
Optical Media: Resonant Media and Pulse Propagation
16 March

Other important dates:
Last day to drop without a W: 16 January
Last day to register: 18 January
Last day to withdraw: 26 February