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Basics of Electro-Optics

by Ron Kurtus (28 June 2006)

As in the Basics of Optics, electro-optics is concerned with the generation, control of propagation and detection of electromagnetic waves. The main difference is that electro-optics specializes in components, devices and systems which operate by modification of the optical properties of a material by an electric field. Typically, they are in the infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum.

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Electro-optics is concerned with the generation of electromagnetic waves by the means of electrical fields. Certainly, radio and television waves and microwaves are created electronically, as are some lasers and masers.

But in the case of longer wavelengths, electro-optics is not concerned with the creation of the radiation as it is concerned with the propagation and detection. For example, infrared radiation is often generated by the heat of an object, but its detection usually requires electronic means.

Controlling propagation

There are electronic devices that can control the propagation of non-visible light, but they are not the mainstay of electro-optics. Usually exotic materials are used to direct and focus the various non-visible waveforms.


Detection is the heart of electro-optics. Photodetectors respond to electromagnetic radiation and electrically record its characteristics. The sensors in some photodetectors record a change in electrical resistance, while others create an electrical potential. Chemical detection of radiation, such as with photographic film is not usually considered part of electro-optics.

Electronic devices such as focal-plane arrays and charge-couple devices (CCD) are often used to detect and directly change the light into an electrical signal.


Electro-optics is concerned with components, devices and systems that use electrical fields to create, control of propagation and detect electromagnetic waves. Typically, the science focuses on the infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum.

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