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Effective Teaching Of Photonics E&M Theory Using Comsol®

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

ECE Poster Session

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.468.1 - 13.468.8



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Paper Authors

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Bill Yang Western Carolina University

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Yeqin Huang Western Carolina University

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Robert Adams Western Carolina University

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James Zhang Western Carolina University

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Kenneth Burbank Western Carolina University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Effective Teaching of Photonics E&M Theory Using COMSOL® Abstract

Photonics and optical communications, after the exuberant growth and subsequent down turn in late 1990s and early 2000s, have entered a more mature and stable growth phase. As the technology of choice for long distance, high data rate, and high performance communication systems underlying the now ubiquitous Internet communications, photonics and optical communication professionals are and will continue to be in high demand. Because electromagnetic (E&M) theory is the foundation of photonics and optical communications, mastery of E&M theory is essential for those electrical engineering (EE) students who want to develop a career in this field.

Traditionally, rigorous analytic skills in advanced mathematics especially in subjects such as partial differential equations (PDE) and linear algebra are a must to the understanding and applications of E&M theory, as well as photonic device and waveguide designs. However, as practical designs grow in complexity, even the most sophisticated and advanced analytic techniques in these mathematical subject areas can quickly fall short of being a suitable practical design tool. Standard industry practices utilize comprehensive software simulation packages to address these design needs. It is therefore appropriate and advantageous for EE students to learn and more importantly visualize the E&M theory by combining the basic mathematical principles, e.g., the Maxwell equations and wave equations, with practical software tools that they are more likely to use in their professional life. This paper discusses the introduction of COMSOL®, a predominant industry PDE solver, to senior EE undergraduates as a learning tool of fundamental concepts in photonics such as transverse electrical (TE) modes and transverse magnetic (TM) modes in planar waveguide designs. This teaching method improves teaching effectiveness of E&M field and wave theory by helping the students better understand mathematical complexities through this readily available and reliable software tool. In addition to the theory, the students also gain the design capability using these industry standard software packages, and therefore bridging the gap between theory and practice. .


The vector property of E&M fields is at the heart of optics and E&M wave theories. At the same time, it is also often a difficult knowledge point in an engineering curriculum. This in a major way is because the vector nature of the fields is abstract. First of all, an E&M field is not easily perceived directly. In addition, the vector relationship between the fields and their corresponding responses in a medium is even harder to ‘see’. This non-intuitive nature of E&M fields has been consistently one of the main obstacles for generations of engineering students in their study of optics and E&M wave theories. On the other hand, optics and E&M wave theories are now becoming key components of core engineering knowledge as they have become increasingly important in modern industries and electrical engineering practices. Optical fiber networks, for example, are the backbone of the Internet and voice communications. Optical fiber communications relies heavily on photonic and opto-electronic technologies. The need of proficient workers and design engineers in this field is and will continue to grow. Photonics E&M theory is essential to those EE students who want to develop a successful career in this

Yang, B., & Huang, Y., & Adams, R., & Zhang, J., & Burbank, K. (2008, June), Effective Teaching Of Photonics E&M Theory Using Comsol® Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3670

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