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Design of Optical Systems


Admission requirements

Knowledge on advanced optics, e.g. the course content of Astronomical Telescopes & Instruments. An open mind to creative processes and team work.


Whether they end up pursuing a career in or outside astronomy, our students are likely to be involved in projects that involve the design, construction and commissioning of instrumentation based on advanced technology. In this experimental and "design-based"/"project-based" course, students will team up in small groups and apply their theoretical skills to develop a functioning and complex optical instrument that performs a specific scientific experiment of students' own choosing. During the course, the student teams will go through the complete design cycle, including setting the overall goals, establishing a conceptual design, performing trade-offs and key calculations/simulations, prototyping, design reviews, calibration and testing, and full end-to-end performance analysis. In addition to more classical classroom teaching of the basics, the teams will mostly work hands-on, and make use of available optical components and low-cost mechanical and electronic materials (e.g. toy bricks from a particular company from Denmark, a Raspberry Pi or your smartphone, or whatever your small dedicated team budget can buy you). At the end of the project, all teams present their new instruments, its design choices and performance.

The detailed outline is:

  • Establish top-level SMART requirements, and associated tests and validations.

  • Construct the flow-down of the top-level requirements to instrument parameters.

  • Analyze the system-level trade-offs, and make major design decisions.

  • Construct a project plan, including work breakdown structure and schedule.

  • Apply standard methods for performance prediction: error classification and propagation, photon budget, tolerance analysis, end-to-end simulation, etc.

  • Create a basic optical and optomechanical design.

  • Apply alignment/control procedures/algorithms.

  • Execute design iterations based on initial (prototype / proof of concept) results.

  • Perform optical calibrations and tests.

  • Analyze the overall system performance, and trace performance indicators to the top-level requirement parameters.

  • Perform a design review of another project.

  • Evaluate the design process and the group dynamics.

Course objectives

Upon completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • Design, develop, and test an optical system with novel and/or previously untested elements.

  • Evaluate instrument performance in context of requirements and system-level design choices.

  • Execute all major aspects of the creative design cycle that applies both to astronomical instrumentation and to industrial projects.

Soft skills

  • Practical creative design methods

  • Team work

  • Project work breakdown structure

  • Planning/scheduling

  • Risk analysis and mitigation

  • Presenting and reviewing complex projects

  • Critical thinking and assessment


See Astronomy master schedules

Mode of instruction

Weekly sessions that include an introductory lecture and an intensive hands-on session. In the course of the sessions, the groups will run through all the aspects of a complete end-to-end design project, supported by the acquisition of both theoretical knowledge and practical skills. The groups can also work on their projects in between the scheduled sessions.

Assessment method

The final grade is based on report + (public) presentation on critical analysis of performance and process. Peer assessment between-, and self-assessment within the groups will be factored in as advise for the grading.


Brightspace will be used to communicate with students and to share lecture slides, homework assignments, and any extra materials. You must enroll on uSis before the first lecture. To have access, you need a student ULCN account.

Reading list

Material discussed in class.


Via uSis. More information about signing up for your classes can be found here. Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Prospective students website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

Lecturer: Frans Snik
Assistant: Elina Kleisioti