Optoelectronics is widely considered a sub-discipline of photonics, which refers to the study and application of the physical science of light. The study of light is an incredibly complex and intersectional field that concerns various schools of thought. Photonics and optics, for example, are two undoubtedly interlinked yet distinct areas of science. Likewise, optoelectronics and electro-optics are entirely separate yet related entities.
It can be easy to lose track of the vernacular when considering these various fields from such a broad vantage point. A simple way to distinguish between optics and photonics is that both are concerned with manipulating light, but electro-optics is concerned with electrically manipulating devices and systems to produce desired light properties while photonics is concerned with manipulating light to produce a required electrical signal.
General Theory of Optoelectronics
Optoelectronic devices refer to components used to detect or emit electromagnetic radiation, typically in the visible and near-infrared (NIR) regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Each of these functions exploits the photoelectric effect of materials, also known as light-matter interaction. The premise of this was established by Albert Einstein who postulated that light was quantized; formed of photons as opposed to continuous waves.
The underlying mechanisms of all optoelectronic devices are based on the photovoltaic effect, which refers to the emission of electrons from material by photons. When a light beam strikes a photoelectric material, photon energy may be absorbed by electrons in the material’s crystal lattice. Provided this energy exceeds the electron’s energy band gap, it is ejected from the material. The same general principle works in the inverse to produce light from electrical signals.
Difference Between Optoelectronics and Electro-Optics
Before exploring the types of optoelectronic devices available on the market today, it is worth briefly distinguishing what is meant by electro-optics compared to optoelectronics as there is some disagreement on the verbiage. Some argue that the two are synonymous, but this is not entirely accurate. As the name would suggest, electro-optics is more closely linked to the field of optics. Digging into this a little deeper, electro-optics typically refers to methods and devices used to moderate the characteristics of light via an electric effect; such as electronically adjusting the refractive indices of optical devices. Optoelectronics is significantly more varied than that.
Types of Optoelectronic Devices
Optoelectronic devices today are primarily based on semiconductors like silicon (Si), which exhibit electronic properties between those of a conductor and an insulator based on the structure of the energy bandgap in the material. Though the relationship between optoelectronics and semiconductors is not mutually exclusive, they form the basis of most optoelectronic systems used in consumer, industrial and military products today. These include – but are not limited to:
- Photodiodes and photovoltaics
- Photologic sensors
- Encoder sensor integrated circuits (ICs)
- Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and organic LEDs (OLEDs)
- Laser diodes
- Optical fibers
TT Electronics: Suppliers of Optoelectronic Devices
TT Electronics specializes in the development of optoelectronic devices for demanding areas of application. We provide solutions specified to meet and exceed even the stringent standards of aerospace and defense applications. If you would like to learn more about our product range, and the markets that we routinely serve, simply contact a member of the TT Electronics team today.