Fundamentals of Optoelectronic Devices and Applied Optics

Course summary

  • Department of Engineering Science, University of Oxford, Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PJ
  • This unit can only be taken as part of the MSc in Microelectronics, Optoelectronics and Communications.
  • Course code O18C005H6Y
  • +44 (0)1865 283263
  • Applications not yet being accepted

Fundamentals of Optoelectronic Devices and Applied Optics


This is the fourth unit of the part-time MSc in Microelectronics, Optoelectronics and Communications, and includes the following topics:.

Programme details

Fundamentals of Semiconductor devices

Topics covered:

  • Materials: metals, insulators, semiconductors
  • Quantum mechanics: Schrödinger's equation, quantum theory of solids, band structure, effective mass, density of states, Fermi-Dirac statistics
  • Semiconductors: intrinsic and extrinsic semiconductors, carrier concentrations, Fermi level, drift and diffusion currents, generation and recombination of carriers, the continuity equation and ambipolar transport
  • pn junction diodes: built-in potential, depletion region, forward and reverse bias, capacitance

Learning outcomes. Students will:

  1. Explain the differences between metals, semiconductors and insulators and how doping changes the electrical behaviour of semiconductors.
  2. Solve Schrödinger's equation in 1D and explain the importance of the results in quantum wells and heterostructures.
  3. Derive expressions for, and describe the importance of, the density of states, the effective density of states and the effective mass.
  4. Describe the importance of the Fermi Energy.
  5. Calculate expressions for the density of states in 2D and 3D.
  6. Explain the origins of all the terms in the ambipolar transport equation.
  7. Solve the ambipolar transport in semiconductor devices.
  8. Derive expressions for the built-in voltage, electric field and capacitance of a pn junction.
  9. Draw the band diagram of semiconductor devices under different bias conditions.

Electromagnetism and Waves

Topics covered:

  • Electromagnetism for communications: Introduction to integral forms of Maxwell's equations
  • Material response to fields
  • Boundary conditions, derived from Maxwell's equations
  • Derivation of capacitance and inductance for simple geometries, e.g. co-axial cable
  • Wireless transmission
  • Maxwell's equations for a plane wave; free space impedance; reflection at a boundary; boundary conditions for E and H; current-carrying conductors in high-frequency fields, skin depth
  • Antennas; gain, types, link budget, dipoles, radiation resistance. Noise; sources, noise figure and temperature, link budgets, figures of merit

Learning outcomes. Students will:

  1. To derive the basic properties of transmission lines, and understand wave propagation, reflections, matching and dispersion.
  2. Use the Maxwell equations to derive solutions for plane wave propagation.
  3. Explain and derive basic results for optical fibre transmission systems.
  4. Understand what is meant by the gain, effective aperture and radiation resistance of antenna and be able to derive them using a solution to Maxwell’s equations for a short dipole.

Light Sources and Detectors

Topics covered:

  • Photons in semiconductors: direct and indirect band-gap semiconductors, optical loss and gain mechanisms, optical confinement, quantum well structures, heterostructures, light emitting diodes, semiconductor lasers
  • Detection, photodiodes, APD, types of photovoltaic cells and their characteristics, optical concentrators and other enhancements
  • Connecting PV cells and arrays: grid-connected and standalone systems
  • Solar building products

Learning outcomes. Students will:

  1. Explain how light is detected in semiconductor devices.
  2. Describe how light can be generated in semiconductor LEDs and lasers.
  3. Describe different types of solar energy concentrators and derive the theoretical limit of concentrators.
  4. Describe at least one method of solar thermal power generation.
  5. Explain the operation of a PV cell, including how the output is affected by material selection, the incident light and the origins of the maximum power point.
  6. Describe how the maximum available output voltage from PV cells can be increased.

Geometrical and Physical Optics

Topics covered:

  • Introduction: History of the subject, overview of topics covered
  • Geometrical optics: Laws of reflection/refraction, ray matrices, lenses and lens systems
  • Examples of computer aided lens and optical design
  • Polarisation: Definition, Jones and Stokes parameters, Jones and Mueller matrices, Poincare sphere, wave-plates and other examples
  • Fresnel reflection and refraction: Polarisation effects, Brewster angle, external and internal reflection
  • Interference: Coherence, fringe visibility, interferometers, thin films
  • Diffraction: Diffraction integrals, diffraction at apertures and gratings, diffractive and refractive optics

Learning outcomes. Students will:

  1. Understand the use of ray matrices and be able to apply these to basic lens systems.
  2. To be able to derive from first principles the laws of reflection and refraction along with the Fresnel coefficients for transmission and reflection.
  3. Understand the tools employed to describe the polarisation of an electromagnetic wave.

Metamaterials and Plasmonics

Topics covered:

Metamaterials is a new subject. The term ‘metamaterial’ means that it is something well beyond ordinary materials. So what are metamaterials? A brief and quite good definition is ‘artificial media with unusual electromagnetic properties’ such as negative refraction. This lecture course serves as an introduction to this fascinating research field.

Fundamental concepts will be introduced with emphasis on physical principles and simple mathematical models; application will be illustrated with new devices and technologies.

Learning outcomes. Students will:

  1. Understand the principles behind metamaterials including negative refractive index materials, their fabrication and applications.
  2. Understand how permittivity and permeability in metamaterials can be calculated from the properties of individual resonators and interactions between them.
  3. Understand how plasmonic excitations in metals can be described and employed for sub-wavelength imaging.
  4. Understand the basic ideas behind applications of metamaterials including the perfect lens, invisibility, and manipulation of electromagnetic waves on a subwavelength scale.

Fourier Optics and Holography

Topics covered:

  • Fourier optics: Fourier optics treatment of Fresnel and Fraunhofer diffraction and the spatial frequency domain
  • Lenses as Fourier transform elements: image formation in terms of Fourier optics, coherent and incoherent imaging
  • Characterisation of imaging systems: use of pupil functions, point spread functions, coherent and optical transfer functions
  • Resolution of imaging systems, the effects of de-focus and other aberrations, pupil plane filtering

Learning outcomes. Students will:

  1. To be able to apply the Fresnel-Kirchhoff diffraction formula to certain scenarios such as the near and far-fields.
  2. Understand the role Fourier transforms play in describing Fresnel and Fraunhofer diffraction.


Recommended reading

You will be issued with a reading list before your residential week via the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).



Accommodation is not included in the course fee but may be available at your college and at Rewley House.

Bed and breakfast accommodation at other University colleges can also be booked on the Oxford Rooms website.



Radcliffe Science library

The Radcliffe Science Library (RSL) is the main science research library at the university. The library holds copies of all of your reading list items, and most of your engineering library research will be done using this library’s resources. The library is located less than 5 minutes away from the Engineering Science department, at the corner of Parks Road and South Parks Road.

The subject librarian responsible for Engineering Science is Alessandra Vetrugno (, based at the RSL

The Department for Continuing Education

The Department for Continuing Education is based at Rewley House in Wellington Square, only five minutes walk from the Department of Engineering Science (Thom Building).

In addition to supporting the various aspects of the course that involve online learning, the Department has facilities available to students during their attendance in Oxford. In particular, the Department has a Graduate Room - a study space dedicated to graduate students with lockers, printing facilities and refreshments. The Graduate Room is accessible from 8.00am to 10.00pm (24hrs for students using the Department’s overnight accommodation). The Continuing Education Library, also located at Rewley House, has quiet study space and a ‘Reading Room’.


IT requirements

In order to participate in the pre-course material, you will need access to the internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification which can be found online at



This unit can only be taken as part of the MSc in Microelectronics, Optoelectronics and Communications.

Teaching methods

Each of the six taught units will typically follow the structure below:

  1. Online material and exercises using the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). We would expect you to take 12 weeks to work through this material.  We will expect you to read specific material online and be familiar with the necessary pre-requisites of the course before each residential week in Oxford.
  2. A residential week in Oxford during which you will attend classes, complete tutorial exercises, participate in tutorial classes, meet your personal tutor and, where necessary, complete practical assignments.
  3. Assignments, which are available online and which must be completed and submitted by the deadlines (see Key Dates).

This course is taught by members of the Engineering Science Faculty, who you will as lecturers, as tutors for classes, or as your dissertation supervisor. One member of faculty will be assigned to you as a ‘personal tutor’ at the start of the course. He or she will provide advice and guidance, and discuss your academic progress. Your personal tutor will meet with you at each of the residential weeks, and you can contact him or her by email.

Your course supervisor will write a formal report on your progress three times a year on the online Graduate Supervision System ( You will be able to view that report and will be asked to reflect on your progress as well. 

Virtual Learning Environment

This course uses a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), which is a web-based application using WebLearn.

Access to the course VLE is via an internet browser using your University Single Sign-On account. When the course has started and you have activated your Single Sign-On under “My Active Sites” you will have access to the student forum, information about student support, course documents and examiner reports.  If you are unable to access WebLearn, please email the Registry with details of your Single Sign-On (

You will be given access to an 'Induction' VLE which houses supporting materials for the MSc on Microelectronics, Optoelectronics and Communication at the start of the academic year, and to separate sites for each unit as and when you are due to take them.

During the course you will also be required to submit work through our online Moodle Assignment Submission System. A link to the online Submission System can be found here.


Assessment methods

There will be two problem sheets, which are not formally assessed, that will be provided during the residential week. The first two assignments will not contribute to your overall degree outcome. You will receive verbal feedback from the tutor on your work at the tutorial classes during the residential week and written feedback via the VLE.  At the end of the residential week, two further example sheets will be made available via the VLE that will accompany the material to be covered. Again, they will not contribute to your overall degree outcome, and written feedback will be provided.

Finally, there will be two examinable papers that will be provided towards the end of the 12 week course. These papers will be formally assessed with the outcome providing the mark for the completed unit. They will be distributed online and must be submitted for assessment online. You must gain a pass in both of these examinable assignments in order to pass the whole unit. If you fail one of the assignments but pass the other, the mark from the assignment that you passed will be carried forward (further information can be found in the Exam regulations and conventions). For the assignment you failed, you will be set a new assignment and must re-submit this.

Additional worked examples and problems will be provided via the VLE.



This unit can only be taken as part of the MSc in Microelectronics, Optoelectronics and Communications.