Due to the Corona virus education methods or examination can deviate. For the latest news please check the course page in Brightspace.


nl en



Admission Requirements



In the Optics course you learn to describe light with either optical rays or electromagnetic waves. This enables you to solve most problems in Optics.

The lecture material is divided over four blocks:
1. In Geometric Optics you use optical rays and the principles of Huygens and Fermat to describe the operation of optical instruments like lenses, microscopes and telescopes, including their limitations.
2. In Wave Optics you treat light as an electromagnetic wave and encounter wave phenomena like diffraction and interference.
3. To handle the associated mathematical, you first study some general properties of oscillations and waves, including sound and water waves.
4. Finally, you analyze the optical polarization of light and ways to transform it.

The course addresses the following topics:

  • Propagation of light: Huygens sources & Fermat’s principle

  • Geometric optics: Refraction via Snell’s law and lens action through refraction at curved surfaces

  • Optical instruments: eye, microscope, telescope

  • Harmonic oscillation and phasors

  • Waves: interfering waves and the difference between phase and group velocity

  • Interferometers: Young’s double slit, Newton’s rings, Michelson and Fabry-Perot interferometer

  • Diffraction: single slit and double slit with finite width

  • Gratings: diffraction of N slits, diffraction orders and the resolution of a grating spectrometer

  • Optical polarization: linear and circular polarization, birefringence, λ/2 en λ/4 plates, Brewster’s angle

Course Objectives

Main learning objective of BSc course Optics: you are able to solve a large variety of exercise in which light is described either as a bundle of rays or as an electro-magnetic wave;

After this course, you are able to:

  • Derive Snell’s law, using phase fronts and rays;

  • Calculate the lens action produced by curved interfaces and describe potential aberrations;

  • Explain the working principle of various optical instruments, by sketching the prime optical rays and linking them to the essential properties of the instruments;

  • Use phasors in exercises dealing with harmonic oscillations and interference;

  • Quantity the difference between the phase and group velocity of a traveling wave;

  • Solve a variety of exercises on optical interference, including (variations on) Young’s double-slit experiment, and two-beam interference in thin films and interferometers;

  • Quantify the far-field diffraction pattern behind a slit or circular hole and calculate the associated (diffraction) limit of optical instruments, like telescopes and microscopes;

  • Quantify the diffraction pattern behind N slits in terms of diffraction orders and spectral resolution;

  • Explain the working principle of a Fabry-Perot interferometer by solving an infinite sum of reflections;

  • Compare different forms of optical polarization and calculate how polarizers and phase plates modify this polarization.

Transferable skills

  • you prepare for lectures and working classes by studying the lecture material (videoclips and book)

  • you plan ahead in order to distribute your study load over the full lecture period.


For detailed information go to Timetable in Brightspace

Mode of Instruction

Zie Brightspace

Course Load

5 EC = 140 h
Lectures: 10 × 2 = 20 h
Exercise classes: 10 × 2 = 20 h
Exams: 2 + 3 = 5 h
Self study (excl. homework): 85 h
Homework: 10 h (online homework via Sowiso)

Assessment method

The first exam, half way the lecture series, counts for 30% of the grade. The second and final exam counts for 70%. Homework exercises allow you to collect a bonus that can up your grade, but only if your average grade for the two exams is 5.5 or higher. The retake exam, which covers the full course, counts for 100% of the grade.


Instructions and course material can be found on Brightspace. Registration for Brightspace occurs automatically when students enroll in uSis via uSis by registration for a class activity using a class number

Reading List

University Physics, H.D. Young and R.A. Freedman, Addison Wesley 14th edition (ISBN-13: 978-1292100319)


Lecturer: [dr. Jelmer Wagenaar & dr. Julia Cramer] (https://www.universiteitleiden.nl/en/staffmembers/jelmer-wagenaar#tab-1)(https://www.universiteitleiden.nl/en/staffmembers/julia-cramer#tab-1)