Jul 25, 2024  
Graduate Catalog | 2021-2022 
Graduate Catalog | 2021-2022 Previous Edition

Optical Science and Engineering, Ph.D.

The M.S. and Ph.D. programs in Optical Science and Engineering are interdisciplinary, involving primarily five science and engineering departments (Departments of Physics & Optical Science, Chemistry, Mathematics & Statistics, Electrical & Computer Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering & Engineering Science) and four centers (Center for Optoelectronics & Optical Communications, Center for Metamaterials, Center for Freeform Optics, and Center for Precision Metrology).  The program is administered through the Department of Physics and Optical Science.  The purpose of the program is to educate scientists and engineers who will develop the next generation of optical technology.  The program emphasizes basic and applied interdisciplinary education and research in the following specialties of optics:

  • Micro-optics and nanophotonics
  • Fiber and integrated optics
  • Optoelectronic materials and devices
  • Biomedical optics
  • Optical interferometry and metrology
  • Optical fabrication
  • Nanoscale imaging and spectroscopy
  • Adaptive optics
  • Optical communication
  • Novel light-matter interactions
  • Quantum optics
  • Optical sensors and measurements

A complete description of the research activity within the Optical Science and Engineering program can be accessed online at optics.uncc.edu.

Admission Requirements

All applicants seeking admission into the Optical Science and Engineering Ph.D. program must fulfill the university’s general requirements for graduate admission at the Ph.D. level. Additional requirements for admission into the program are:

  • A baccalaureate or master’s degree in Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Engineering, Optics, or a related field
  • Minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 overall and 3.2 (on a scale of 4.0) in the major (if a candidate presents a master’s degree at application, a minimum graduate GPA of 3.2 on all graduate work is required)
  • A minimum combined score of 301 on the verbal and quantitative portions of the GRE General Test (no subject test is required)
  • Positive letters of recommendation
  • Students may be required to take undergraduate courses determined by the Interdisciplinary Optics Program Committee on an individual basis; such courses will be specified at the time of admission into the program

GRE Waiver

The GRE General Test requirement is waived for applicants who have graduated from UNC Charlotte within the past three years and earned a minimum 3.4 GPA in the major.  The GRE General Test is also waived for applicants who are currently enrolled in the M.S. in Optical Science and Engineering  or M.S. in Applied Physics  at UNC Charlotte.

Documents to Submit for Admission

  • UNC Charlotte online application for graduate admission
  • Official GRE scores
  • Official TOEFL or IELTS score from international applicants whose native language is not English, unless the previous degree was from a country where English is the official language
  • Unofficial transcripts from all colleges and universities attended should be uploaded to the application (Applicants offered admission will be required to submit official transcripts)
  • A minimum of three letters of reference
  • A Statement of Purpose essay detailing the applicant’s motivation and career goals

Early Entry Program

Exceptional undergraduate students at UNC Charlotte may apply for the Early Entry Program and begin work toward the graduate degree before completion of the baccalaureate degree.  See the Undergraduate Catalog for details and requirements.  Also see the Degree Requirements and Academic Policies  section of the Graduate Catalog for more information about Early Entry Programs.

Degree Requirements

The Ph.D. in Optical Science and Engineering is awarded for completion of scholarly research that advances the knowledge base in the field and is demonstrated by a successful dissertation defense.  Additionally, recipients of this degree should demonstrate mastery of relevant subject matter and a potential for success in future research and teaching.

The minimum requirement for the Ph.D. degree in Optical Science and Engineering is 72 credit hours beyond the baccalaureate degree. 

Each candidate for the Ph.D. degree in Optical Science and Engineering must complete the following: 

  • Present evidence of competency in the core curriculum by successfully completing 18 of 21 credit hours of core courses with a grade of B or above in each course
  • A minimum of 9 credit hours of elective OPTI courses in addition to the core curriculum
  • 1 credit hour of OPTI 8610  during the Fall semester of the first academic year in the program
  • 1 credit hour of OPTI 8611  during the Spring semester for the first academic year in the program and 1 credit hour of OPTI 8611 each subsequent academic year in the program
  • A minimum of 24 credit hours of OPTI 8991  
  • The remaining credit hours may be dissertation research credits, elective courses, or a combination
  • Successfully complete the written and oral qualifying exam
  • Select a dissertation advisor and form an advisory committee
  • Prepare a plan of study detailing how you intend to satisfy the 72 credit hour requirement
  • Successfully submit a Ph.D. research proposal
  • Successfully defend the Ph.D. dissertation

Core Curriculum (18 credit hours)

All graduates of the program must demonstrate competency in the core curriculum.  Students may do so by completing 18 of the 21 available credit hours of core courses with a grade of B or above in each course.  The course makeup of the 18 credit hours, changing the course makeup, or withdrawing from a core course must be approved by the academic advisor or program director.  Competency is typically demonstrated by the end of the 3rd semester in the program.  With program director approval, students may demonstrate competency by passing a core competency exam.  Credit hours that would have been earned if the student had taken the course may be replaced by dissertation research or an approved elective.

Select from the following:

OPTI Elective Courses (9 credit hours)

Select OPTI courses in addition to the OPTI courses in the Core Curriculum.

Seminar Course (1 credit hour)

To be taken during the Spring semester of the first academic year in the program:

Colloquium Courses

To be taken each subsequent academic semester in the program, following the Seminar Course:

Dissertation Research Course (24 credit hours)

Complete a minimum of 24 credit hours of dissertation research.

Elective Courses

The remaining credit hours of the program may be dissertation research credits, elective courses, or a combination.  Elective courses must be approved by the academic advisor and may include courses having a prefix of OPTI, PHYS, ECGR, MEGR, and NANO.  Other courses may be considered as well.  Ph.D. students should enroll in 8000-level courses when possible. 

Degree Total = 72 Credit Hours

Grade Requirements

Students in the Ph.D. program must maintain a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 in all coursework attempted for the degree.  An accumulation of two C grades will result in suspension from the program.  A grade of U earned in any course will result in suspension from the program.  An accumulation of three C grades or two U grades will result in closure of the student’s enrollment in the program.

Application for Degree

Students should submit an Application for Degree at the beginning of the term in which they anticipate defending their dissertation.  Adherence to Graduate School deadlines is expected.  Degree requirements are completed when students successfully defend their dissertation and file the final copy of the dissertation in the Graduate School.


Support for beginning graduate students is usually a teaching assistantship.  Continuing students are usually supported by research assistantships.


Each student will complete a minimum of 24 credit hours of dissertation research.  The student must submit a written dissertation for final review to the advisory committee three weeks before the defense date.  The student must defend the dissertation before the advisory committee at a presentation which is open to the University community.  Upon approval of the written dissertation and oral presentation by the advisory committee, the student has successfully completed the dissertation requirement.  The dissertation must be written using a format acceptable to the Graduate School.

Dissertation Advisor and Advisory Committee

Each student in the program must have a dissertation advisor and an advisory committee.  The program director serves as academic advisor until the student selects a dissertation advisor.  The student selects the dissertation advisor by submitting a Dissertation Advisor Form.  The student should select the advisor before the end of the second year of residency.  The student and advisor determine the committee by agreement.  The advisor serves as chair of the committee and must be a member of the Optics Faculty and a regular member of the Graduate Faculty at UNC Charlotte.  The Dean of the Graduate School appoints a committee member to serve as the Graduate Faculty Representative.  The committee must have at least 4 members, one of whom is the chair and one of whom is the Graduate Faculty Representative.  All members of the committee must be members of the Graduate Faculty and a majority must be members of the Optics Faculty.  Composition of the advisory committee must be approved by the Optics Program Director and the Dean of the Graduate School.

Responsible Conduct of Research

UNC Charlotte is committed to ensuring that doctoral students understand their obligations as researchers.  All first year doctoral students in science, math, engineering, or technology are required to enroll in GRAD 8302 .  This two credit hour course prepares students for a range of research related issues. 

Qualifying Exam

Students participate in a written and oral qualifying examination administered by the optics faculty during the third semester of enrollment in the program.  If a student fails the qualifying examination, it may be retaken once.  If a student fails the exam a second time, the student’s enrollment in the Ph.D. program will be closed.

Plan of Study

All students should prepare a plan of study before the end of their fourth semester following admission to the program.  The plan of study shows in detail how the student intends to meet the degree requirements.  The plan of study must be approved by the advisory committee and the optics program director.

Research Proposal

After successful demonstration of competency in the core curriculum and approval of the plan of study, the student will prepare a written research proposal and present an oral defense of the proposal to their advisory committee.  This should be completed within three years following admission to the program.  The research proposal, also called the dissertation topic proposal, must be approved by the advisory committee.  The research proposal demonstrates the student’s knowledge of the relevant literature and the specific research problems and methods of study that, if successfully completed, will lead to an acceptable dissertation.

Residency Requirement

The student must satisfy the residence requirement for the program by completing 20 credit hours of continuous enrollment in coursework/dissertation credit. Residence is considered continuous if the student is enrolled in one or more courses in successive semesters until 20 credit hours are earned.

Transfer Credit

Up to 30 credit hours of approved coursework may be transferred from a master’s and/or doctoral program from a college or university accredited by an accepted accrediting body.  Only courses in which the student earned a grade of B or above (or its equivalent) can be transferred. No more than 6 credit hours of approved coursework taken as a post-baccalaureate student may be applied toward the degree. Credit for dissertation research cannot be transferred.