Optical physics, or optical science, is a subfield of atomic, molecular, and optical physics. It is the study of the generation of electromagnetic radiation, the properties of that radiation, and the interaction of that radiation with matter, especially its manipulation and control. It differs from general optics and optical engineering in that it is focused on the discovery and application of new phenomena. There is no strong distinction, however, between optical physics, applied optics, and optical engineering, since the devices of optical engineering and the applications of applied optics are necessary for basic research in optical physics, and that research leads to the development of new devices and applications. Often the same people are involved in both the basic research and the applied technology development.
Researchers in optical physics use and develop light sources that span the electromagnetic spectrum from microwaves to X-rays. The field includes the generation and detection of light, linear and nonlinear optical processes, and spectroscopy. Lasers and laser spectroscopy have transformed optical science. Major study in optical physics is also devoted to quantum optics and coherence, and to femtosecond optics. In optical physics, support is also provided in areas such as the nonlinear response of isolated atoms to intense, ultra-short electromagnetic fields, the atom-cavity interaction at high fields, and quantum properties of the electromagnetic field. Other important areas of research include the development of novel optical techniques for nano-optical measurements, diffractive optics, low-coherence interferometry, optical coherence tomography, and near-field microscopy. Research in optical physics places an emphasis on ultrafast optical science and technology. The applications of optical physics create advancements in communications, medicine, manufacturing, and even entertainment.