Computer Aided Design (CAD) involves, among other things, the modelling and simulation of the functioning of a device for its respective field. These modelling and simulation tools also exist in the field of photonics (e.g. Zemax, COMSOL) and allow one to simulate the propagation of light in various geometries that represent the actual devices.
The techniques used in these simulations can be categorized according to the discretization of the simulation domein (finite differences or finite elements) or according to the underlying physical model (beam propagation, time domain simulations, etc.). Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. In our research group, we mostly work with the finite element method (FEM), because it allows one to increase the accuracy of a calculation in a region where one could expect the optical field to change drastically. It is therefore a computationally efficient method and relatively fast. But for three dimensional simulations the method becomes quite demanding in terms of memory usage and computation time. For quite a number of configurations, it is not necessary to use such an accurate method and less computationally demanding methods can be a good alternative.
Above is a figure taken from D. Xu et al., Optics Express 2013 in which an optical model is described to calculate light transmission through an anisotropic blue phase liquid crystal display.
In this master dissertation, you will create a computer program that simulates the propagation of light in anisotropic media, such as liquid crystals. The method will be similar to a ray tracer, but now applied for anisotropic media. Afterwards, you will verify the functioning of your simulation program by fabricating some liquid crystal cells (minor cleanroom work) and building a setup to measure the optical properties, such as deviation angle. Additionally you will be able to verify the validity of the method by comparing the result with some of the advanced finite element tools that are available in the research group. The final goal is to obtain a reliable method to design and optimize liquid crystal devices that can be used in displays, beam steerers and tunable lenses.