The Southern Miss Department of Physics and Astronomy is working to develop broad capabilities in laser and optical physics to enhance its educational and research activities. Currently funded research in the department supports the development of optical devices, and optical materials, and the application of lasers for sensitive spectroscopic measurements. A collaborative research project with Los Alamos National Laboratory and Mississippi State University focuses on the development of small, portable isotopic analysis devices for environmental and security applications based primarily on the use of diode laser technology for high sensitivity environmental measurements of elements such as uranium and plutonium. The department also participates in the recently funded Response-Driven Polymeric Films Center, an NSF funded Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, to develop holographically formed polymer dispersed liquid crystals for applications such as Bragg gratings, photonic crystals, hyperspectral filters, and etc. Finally, the department leads a $2 million per year effort to develop optical technologies for national security applications.