A new undergraduate degree program at the University of Central Florida will begin this fall that will help students get jobs in a burgeoning specialized field that integrates optics, photonics and electrical engineering.

The new bachelor of science degree in Photonics Science and Engineering will enable graduates to work for employers that create photonic or photonic-enabled products for applications in manufacturing, solar energy, smart lighting, medical diagnostics and therapeutics, telecommunications and computer technologies.

Approved earlier this year by the UCF Board of Trustees, the degree program is a joint initiative between the UCF College of Optics and Photonics (known as CREOL, which stands for the Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers) and the College of Engineering and Computer Science (CECS).

The degree is the only bachelor’s program in optics and photonics in Florida. Only three other institutions offer this type of undergraduate engineering degree in the nation.

The new degree also will help optics and photonics-related companies reduce the need to train new hires who are often electrical engineers but need additional skills in photonics.

Graduates skilled in photonics and engineering are in demand. Florida has 270 optics and photonics companies with 60 in Central Florida. The formation of CREOL at UCF 26 years ago has led to the birth of many of these companies, which has translated into the need for a highly trained workforce with specialized skills in optics and photonics.

“Optics is a venerable subject that has its roots in physics and astronomy, involving instruments such as telescopes and microscopes,” said Bahaa Saleh, dean of CREOL. “But photonics has emerged more recently when lasers, opto-electronics and optical fibers became available.”

The principal base of photonics is electrical engineering, a field that deals with electronics, communication, radio and microwave systems, said Michael Georgiopoulos, dean of CECS. “The partnership between the two colleges at UCF is a natural progression that represents a win-win scenario for the students and their future employers,” he said.

At UCF, the joint program will have approximately 28 faculty. “It’s a unique venture to have a collaborative program between two colleges. When the students graduate, they will be alumni of both colleges,” said Mike McKee, who will serve as associate director of the degree program.

Enrolled students will take a common set of engineering courses along with key courses in electrical engineering and specialized photonic science and engineering classes. Both colleges will provide advising for students in the early part of the program, and CREOL later will advise students taking specialized courses in photonics sciences and engineering.

Photonic science is considered an enabling technology. For example, a smart phone uses many photonics applications, such as the screen and camera. Many technology companies, although not considered primarily photonics companies, require the expertise of photonics engineers to develop their products.

According to the 2014 U.S. News and World Report Rankings of Graduate Schools, the UCF Optics graduate program and the Electrical Engineering graduate program rank 13 and 55 respectively.