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Germanium and germanium oxide are transparent to the infrared and are used in infrared spectroscopes and other optical equipment, including extremely sensitive infrared detectors.

The high index of refraction and dispersion properties of its oxide's have made germanium useful as a component of wide-angle camera lenses and microscope objectives. Germanium oxide is added to glass to increase the index of refraction; such glass is used in wide-angle lenses and in infrared devices. Numerous alloys containing germanium have been prepared. High purity germanium single crystal detectors can precisely identify radiation sources (e.g. for airport security).

Mixture of silicon dioxide and germanium dioxide ("silica-germania") is used as an optical material for optical fibers and optical waveguides. Controlling the ratio of the elements allows precise control of refractive index. Silica-germania glasses have lower viscosity and higher refractive index than pure silica. Germania replaced titania as the silica dopant for silica fiber, eliminating the need for subsequent heat treatment which made the fibers brittle.