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Design of Optical Systems


Admission requirements

Knowledge on advanced optics and an open mind to creative processes and team work. The course Astronomical Telescopes & Instruments is prerequisite for this course.


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.


See Astronomy master schedules

You will find the timetables for all courses and degree programmes of Leiden University in the tool MyTimetable (login). Any teaching activities that you have sucessfully registered for in MyStudyMap will automatically be displayed in MyTimeTable. Any timetables that you add manually, will be saved and automatically displayed the next time you sign in.

MyTimetable allows you to integrate your timetable with your calendar apps such as Outlook, Google Calendar, Apple Calendar and other calendar apps on your smartphone. Any timetable changes will be automatically synced with your calendar. If you wish, you can also receive an email notification of the change. You can turn notifications on in ‘Settings’ (after login).

For more information, watch the video or go the the 'help-page' in MyTimetable. Please note: Joint Degree students Leiden/Delft have to merge their two different timetables into one. This video explains how to do this.

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.

Reading list

Material discussed in class.


From the academic year 2022-2023 on every student has to register for courses with the new enrollment tool MyStudyMap. There are two registration periods per year: registration for the fall semester opens in July and registration for the spring semester opens in December. Please see this page for more information.

Please note that it is compulsory to both preregister and confirm your participation for every exam and retake. Not being registered for a course means that you are not allowed to participate in the final exam of the course. Confirming your exam participation is possible until ten days before the exam.

Extensive FAQ's on MyStudymap can be found here.


Lecturer: Frans Snik


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