Laser and Optical Systems

Course #SE3116

Est.imated Completion Time: 3 months


This course discusses the fundamentals of lasers and laser optics as systems with an emphasis on design and practical applications. General topics include lasers, laser types, laser components, beam propagation, laser optics, optical materials and instruments, beam scanning, radiometry, detectors and how these concepts are combined to design laser systems with characteristics required for various applications. Laser system topics include a rate equation description of laser action facilitating modeling and performance estimation, wavelength selection options (energy levels and transitions), how prime power is converted into useful laser output (pump mechanisms), laser beam quality and its control (resonators, modes, and mode control), propagation of laser radiation, generation of specific time-dependent outputs (Q-switching, mode-locking, and modulation), frequency conversion and other nonlinear effects. Optical system topics include characteristics and fabrication techniques for optical components, image formation and image quality metrics, aberrations and their correction, devices utilizing polarization, interferometers and spectrometers, control of stray light & unwanted reflections, optical mounting techniques, gimbaled optical systems, line of sight stabilization, and optical measurement and testing systems. 


  • None. Knowledge of systems engineering fundamentals is recommended.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to: 

  • Describe the advantages and limitations of DE weapons, the most common types of lasers, and key performance metrics. Identify and describe the components of laser systems.  
  • Describe fundamental concepts of laser operation including population inversion, 3-level and 4-level lasers, rate equations, laser gain and saturation. 
  • Discuss laser performance characteristics and specifications and how they are applied to laser design and laser selection. Describe various laser performance metrics, including efficiency, beam quality, irradiance, fluence, brightness, power-in-the-bucket, coherence, linewidth, and duty cycle, and give examples of typical values for these parameters. 
  • Describe a variety of laser systems including solid-state lasers, fiber lasers, gas lasers, chemical lasers, liquid (dye) lasers, and free-electron lasers. 
  • Discuss laser beam propagation and atmospheric effects on laser beams. Describe the fundamental concepts of absorption, scattering, transmittance, optical depth, turbulence, and thermal blooming. Be able to derive and apply Beer’s Law. 
  • Describe methods for modeling laser system performance, including atmospheric databases and models, weather forecasting models, optical turbulence models and laser propagation models. 
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