A program that focuses on the scientific study of vision, visual processes, and related phenomena and clinical research and treatment modalities. Includes instruction in ocular anatomy and physiology, microbiology of the eye, electrophysiology, neurophysiology, corneal physiology, photochemistry, psychophysics, visual biophysics and motor systems, sensory mechanisms and photoreception, eye circulation and metabolism, geometric and physical optics, ocular development across the life span, visual stimuli and perception, color vision, eye motility, biometrics and measurement techniques, visual pathology, and environmental issues.

Careers in vision science and optics focus on understanding the mechanics of visual perception and the behavior of light.

As one of the primary senses, vision is a huge part of how humans and other organisms experience the world around us. The field of vision science is all about understanding the individual components that make vision possible, from the particulars of ocular anatomy to the processing of light. We are able to perceive the spectrum of light as a result of lenses within the eyes that reflect that light, using it to interpret external objects. This is a complex system of nerves, cells, and chemicals built to receive, transmit, and process huge amounts of information in the form of visual input, which must be linked to the brain to be processed in real time.

Vision science includes areas of study such as spatial awareness and color perception, but on the whole focuses more on the anatomy and activity of the eye. Meanwhile, optics is a division of physics focused on the behavior of light and how it is processed; topics in optics range from the creation of lasers to the perception of mirrors and all kinds of other interesting subjects. Light is a type of non-ionizing radiation with many distinctive properties - it can bend, fracture, and be perceived differently depending on what's looking at it.

Work in vision science or optics may include...

  • Observing the behavior of light and light receptors
  • Assessing visual acuity
  • Developing and administering solutions to vision problems
  • Monitoring lenses for geometric anomalies
  • Collecting and interpreting optical data

Roles in optics and vision science vary widely. Workers who fit customers for corrective lenses in retail settings may encounter aspects of the field on a day to day basis. Research professionals may be involved in the design and engineering of corrective lenses, as well as consumer products like telescopes and cameras. Many visual scientists work in optometry, helping patients find solutions to poor vision and eye conditions. Those with medical training can work as ophthalmologists in hospitals or private practice settings, where they may diagnose severe problems and conduct surgeries. Vision scientists and optics experts are often found in university labs and classrooms, where they teach and direct study. There are many applications for optics across the industrial sector, and some government jobs employ workers with specialized knowledge in the field.

Students of vision science and optics can choose different educational tracks depending on their area of interest. Some roles on the periphery of the field require no formal education aside from job training. Students who want to explore the field can enroll in Associate's and Bachelor's degree programs, where most study biology at the undergraduate level, with supporting coursework in biochemistry, physics, geometry, and anatomy. Some four-year schools have specialized programs in optics, which can be a great option for students who want to pursue research or engineering. Those who want to provide eye care tend to follow their undergraduate degrees with optometry school, a specialized four-year graduate program that earns them the title Doctor of Optometry. While this is a medical degree, it is distinct from medical school, which is the route of choice for aspiring ophthalmologists; their training takes longer and involves diagnosis and surgical experience. Students who are more interested in research than in clinical work opt for Master's and PhD programs in optics, where they may study a particular aspect of the discipline and contribute their own work.

If you want to know what's going on behind eyes or what makes light work, an exciting career in vision science or optics might be waiting for you.

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