Light Science pp 333-355 | Cite as

Photonics—Light in the Twenty-First Century

  • Thomas D. RossingEmail author
  • Christopher J. Chiaverina


When first invented, the laser was described as an invention in search of an application. Few predicted that lasers would ultimately have applications in medicine, agriculture, commerce, optical communication, astronomy, manufacturing, and security. With light now having uses in almost every area of human endeavor, it’s no wonder that it is said that we have entered the photonic age, a time in which photons are used in a manner similar to the way electrons are employed in electronics.


Glossary of Terms

acousto-optic modulator

Acoustic (sound) waves diffract light waves to produce a modulated signal.

adaptive optics

A technology designed to improve the performance of astronomical optical systems by compensating for distortions introduced by medium between object and image.

compact disc (CD)

Optical storage device that uses a laser to write and read data stored as small pits on a reflecting surface.

compact disc read-only memory (CD-ROM)

Compact disc used for computer input.

digitalversatile disc (DVD)

Optical disc capable of storing full-length movies.

diode laser

Semiconductor junction diode that produces coherent light.


A computer-generated holographic pixel.

holographicdata storage

A data storage system in which information is stored throughout a volume rather than just on the surface, as is the case with other optical storage methods.

light-emittingdiode (LED)

Semiconductor junction diode that emits light of a particular color when excited by an electric current.

magneto-optical (MO) disc

Stores data that can be read out using the Kerr magneto-optical effect.

magneto-optical Kerr effect

Rotation of the plane of polarization when reflected by a magnetic surface. Direction of rotation depends on direction of magnetization.

MiniDisc (MD)

Miniature compact disc for recording digital audio.

multiwavelength astronomy

The study of the universe using a wide range of wavelengths.

optical computer

A device that uses visible or infrared light, rather electric current, to perform digital computations.

optical fiber

Glass fiber capable of transmitting data optically.

optical tweezers

Instruments that employ laser light to manipulate and trap micro particles.


Semiconductor junction that conducts electricity when illuminated by light. Used to detect reflected signals from an optical storage disc.


A branch of physics and technology that deals with the properties and applications of photons.

spatiallight modulator

A device used in holographic data storage systems to modulate amplitude, phase, or polarization of light waves in space and time.

Further Reading

  1. Bloomfield, L.A. (2008). How Everything Thing Works. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  2. Kogelnik, H. (1995). Optical communications. In G. L. Trigg (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Applied Physics, Vol. 12. New York: VCH Publishers.Google Scholar
  3. Pohlman, K. C. (1989). The Compact Disc. Madison, WI: AR Editions.Google Scholar
  4. Rossing, T. D., Moore, F.R., & Wheeler, P.A. (2001). The Science of Sound, 3rd ed. Boston: Pearson.Google Scholar
  5. Tanida, J., & Ichioka, Y. (1995). Optical computing. In G. L. Trigg (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Applied Physics, Vol. 12. New York: VCH Publishers.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas D. Rossing
    • 1
    Email author
  • Christopher J. Chiaverina
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Music, Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA)Stanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  2. 2.New Trier Township High SchoolWinnetkaUSA

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