Optica

Donald Barnhart
Loughborough University

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Optica is a geometric ray-tracing package for Mathematica that can be used to design and analyze both simple and complex optical systems. In addition to Optica's built-in library of lenses, mirrors, prisms, and gratings, new components can be created and existing ones modified with "genetic building blocks," Optica's component-structuring language. New user-interface advancements to Optica such as palettes and an online help guide are also currently underway.

Scientists and engineers who are developing equipment and experimental setups involving optics will find Optica a useful tool for determining component specifications and system layouts. Optica enables evaluation and optimization of alternative system designs before capital expenditures on equipment are made. The high-quality graphics generated by Optica can be used directly in blueprints, grant proposals, and research reports.

Optica is also useful for educational purposes, providing a foundation for Mathematica-based courseware in optics. Optica enables computer-based laboratory experiments, in some cases replacing physical experiments and circumventing exposure to hazardous laser emissions and use of fragile or expensive laboratory equipment. By using Optica, students can conduct experiments in optics with greater flexibility and precision and in less time than is required using physical hardware. In other cases, Optica can be used to supplement the laboratory experience to help students gain greater insights into physical experiments.