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    Optical Sciences

Phone: (202) 767-9306




The Optical Sciences Division carries out a variety of research, development, and application-oriented activities in the generation, propagation, detection, and use of radiation in the wavelength region between near-ultraviolet and far-infrared wavelengths. The Division serves the Laboratory and the Navy as a consulting body of experts in optical sciences. The research, both theoretical and experimental, is concerned with discovering and understanding the basic physical principles and mechanisms involved in optical devices, materials, and phenomena.


Our Work

The work in the Division includes studies in quantum optics, laser physics, optical waveguide technologies, laser–matter interactions, atmospheric propagation, holography, optical data processing, fiber-optic sensor systems, optical systems, optical materials, radiation damage studies, IR surveillance and missile seeker technologies, IR signature measurements, and optical diagnostic techniques. A portion of the effort is devoted to developing, analyzing, and using special optical materials.


Core Capabilities 

Core capabilites include: detection of chemical and biological agents; wide area electro-optic and infrared surveillance; development of novel optical fibers and materials; high speed and free space optical communications; RF Photonics; and fiber optic sensors for acoustic, magnetic, and vibration measurements.

  • Optical Physics - Conducts basic and applied research leading to the development of improved materials, processes and devices that satisfy the demanding requirements of current DoD electro-optical, fiber-optic, laser and optical sensor applications. The branch is organized into four sections:


  1. Optical Nanotechnology - performs research in the development of colloidal semiconductor and metal nanocrystals for use in a wide range of applications, including biosensing, bioimaging, optical detectors and light sources. 
  2. Aerosol Optics - specializes in the investigation of the optical properties of single aerosol particles and the development of groundbreaking chemical and biological aerosol detection technologies. 
  3. Quantum Electro-Optics - is internationally recognized for the development of antimonide-based quantum-confined semiconductor heterostructures, with applications in the development of infrared lasers and photodetectors. 
  4. Advanced Optical Materials - is a pioneer in the development of nanolayered polymers. The multilayered polymers are used in the development of novel polymer gradient index lenses that are significantly thinner and lighter than conventional glass lenses, and in the development of high-energy capacitor materials.
  • Optical Materials and Devices - Consists of five vertically integrated sections that cover the areas of high purity chemicals, specialty optical materials, silica fiber technology, optical devices, and advanced concepts. Its mission is to develop optical materials, components and systems to enhance existing capabilities and enable new capabilities for the Navy and DoD. The branch is involved in developing and demonstrating high power eye safer lasers, infrared lasers, passive and active IR fibers, lightweight multiband optics, rugged windows and domes, photovoltaics, thin film IR devices, and materials for sensing applications.
  • Photonics Technology - The Photonics Technology Branch at the Naval Research Laboratory conducts research in the following areas:
  • Fiber and solid-state laser/sources
  • High-speed (<100 fs) optical probing
  • High-power fiber amplifiers
  • High-speed fiber-optic communications
  • Antenna remoting
  • Free space communications
  • Photonic control of phased array
  • Optical clocks
  • Microwave photonics
  • Applied Optics Branch - conducts basic and applied research in the areas of Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) and Infrared Countermeasures (IRCM). This includes full spectrum active and passive multi-intelligence sensor development, laser techniques and integration, advanced image and signal processing algorithm development, real-time target exploitation and product dissemination, maritime sensing, and rapid prototyping efforts for full-system integration on military airborne, space, ground, surface, and sub-surface platforms.

  • Optical Techniques Branch - conducts research in the following areas:
  • Fiber Optic Interferometric Sensors:
  • Transducer Design and Development
  • Fiber Sensor Multiplexing Approaches
  • Interrogation and Demodulation Techniques
  • Distributed Fiber Optic Sensing:
  • Phase coherent OTDR
  • Brillouin and Raman
  • Laser Sensors
  • Fiber Laser Sensors
  • Distributed Fiber Sensors
  • Fiber Tip Sensors
  • Application Areas:
  • Sonar: Hull, Towed, and Bottom mounted Acoustic Sensor Systems
  • Magnetic field sensing
  • Distributed Seismic and Acoustic sensing
  • Structural Monitoring
  • Sensor Data Fusion