"Electrical and computer engineering" redirects here. For contents about computer engineering, see Computer engineering
Electrical engineering is now divided into a wide range of different fields, including computer engineering
, systems engineering
, power engineering
, radio-frequency engineering
, signal processing
, and optics
. Many of these disciplines overlap with other engineering branches, spanning a huge number of specializations including hardware engineering, power electronics
, electromagnetics and waves, microwave engineering
, renewable energies, mechatronics, and electrical materials science.[a]
Electrical engineers work in a very wide range of industries and the skills required are likewise variable. These range from circuit theory
to the management skills of a project manager
. The tools and equipment that an individual engineer may need are similarly variable, ranging from a simple voltmeter
to sophisticated design and manufacturing software.
The discoveries of Michael Faraday
formed the foundation of electric motor technology.
In 1782, Georges-Louis Le Sage
developed and presented in Berlin
probably the world's first form of electric telegraphy, using 24 different wires, one for each letter of the alphabet. This telegraph connected two rooms. It was an electrostatic telegraph that moved gold leaf through electrical conduction.
In 1795, Francisco Salva Campillo
proposed an electrostatic telegraph system. Between 1803–1804, he worked on electrical telegraphy and in 1804, he presented his report at the Royal Academy of Natural Sciences and Arts of Barcelona. Salva's electrolyte telegraph system was very innovative though it was greatly influenced by and based upon two new discoveries made in Europe in 1800 – Alessandro Volta's electric battery for generating an electric current and William Nicholson and Anthony Carlyle's electrolysis of water. Electrical telegraphy
may be considered the first example of electrical engineering. Electrical engineering became a profession in the later 19th century. Practitioners had created a global electric telegraph
network, and the first professional electrical engineering institutions were founded in the UK and USA to support the new discipline. Francis Ronalds
created an electric telegraph system in 1816 and documented his vision of how the world could be transformed by electricity.
Over 50 years later, he joined the new Society of Telegraph Engineers (soon to be renamed the Institution of Electrical Engineers
) where he was regarded by other members as the first of their cohort.
By the end of the 19th century, the world had been forever changed by the rapid communication made possible by the engineering development of land-lines, submarine cables
, and, from about 1890, wireless telegraphy
Practical applications and advances in such fields created an increasing need for standardised units of measure
. They led to the international standardization of the units volt
, and henry
. This was achieved at an international conference in Chicago in 1893.
The publication of these standards formed the basis of future advances in standardisation in various industries, and in many countries, the definitions were immediately recognized in relevant legislation.
Early 20th century
During the development of radio
, many scientists and inventors
contributed to radio technology
and electronics. The mathematical work of James Clerk Maxwell
during the 1850s had shown the relationship of different forms of electromagnetic radiation
including the possibility of invisible airborne waves (later called "radio waves"). In his classic physics experiments of 1888, Heinrich Hertz
proved Maxwell's theory by transmitting radio waves
with a spark-gap transmitter
, and detected them by using simple electrical devices. Other physicists experimented with these new waves and in the process developed devices for transmitting and detecting them. In 1895, Guglielmo Marconi
began work on a way to adapt the known methods of transmitting and detecting these "Hertzian waves" into a purpose built commercial wireless telegraphic
system. Early on, he sent wireless signals over a distance of one and a half miles. In December 1901, he sent wireless waves that were not affected by the curvature of the Earth. Marconi later transmitted the wireless signals across the Atlantic between Poldhu, Cornwall, and St. John's, Newfoundland, a distance of 2,100 miles (3,400 km).
In 1920, Albert Hull
developed the magnetron
which would eventually lead to the development of the microwave oven
in 1946 by Percy Spencer
In 1934, the British military began to make strides toward radar
(which also uses the magnetron) under the direction of Dr Wimperis, culminating in the operation of the first radar station at Bawdsey
in August 1936.
In 1941, Konrad Zuse
presented the Z3
, the world's first fully functional and programmable computer
using electromechanical parts. In 1943, Tommy Flowers
designed and built the Colossus
, the world's first fully functional, electronic, digital and programmable computer.
In 1946, the ENIAC
(Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) of John Presper Eckert
and John Mauchly
followed, beginning the computing era. The arithmetic performance of these machines allowed engineers to develop completely new technologies and achieve new objectives.
In 1948 Claude Shannon
publishes "A Mathematical Theory of Communication" which mathematically describes the passage of information with uncertainty (electrical noise
The MOSFET (metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistor, or MOS transistor) was invented by Mohamed Atalla and Dawon Kahng
at BTL in 1959.
It was the first truly compact transistor that could be miniaturised and mass-produced for a wide range of uses.
It revolutionized the electronics industry
becoming the most widely used electronic device in the world.
The MOSFET is the basic element in most modern electronic equipment,
and has been central to the electronics revolution,
and the Digital Revolution
The MOSFET has thus been credited as the birth of modern electronics,
and possibly the most important invention in electronics.
Electrical engineering has many subdisciplines, the most common of which are listed below. Although there are electrical engineers who focus exclusively on one of these subdisciplines, many deal with a combination of them. Sometimes certain fields, such as electronic engineering and computer engineering
, are considered separate disciplines in their own right.
Power and energy
Power & Energy engineering deals with the generation
, and distribution
as well as the design of a range of related devices.
These include transformers
, electric generators
, electric motors
, high voltage engineering, and power electronics
. In many regions of the world, governments maintain an electrical network called a power grid
that connects a variety of generators together with users of their energy. Users purchase electrical energy from the grid, avoiding the costly exercise of having to generate their own. Power engineers may work on the design and maintenance of the power grid as well as the power systems that connect to it.
Such systems are called on-grid
power systems and may supply the grid with additional power, draw power from the grid, or do both. Power engineers may also work on systems that do not connect to the grid, called off-grid
power systems, which in some cases are preferable to on-grid systems. The future includes Satellite controlled power systems, with feedback in real time to prevent power surges and prevent blackouts.
Automation and control
Electrical engineers also work in robotics
to design autonomous systems using control algorithms which interpret sensory feedback to control actuators that move robots such as autonomous vehicles
, autonomous drones and others used in a variety of industries.
Prior to the Second World War, the subject was commonly known as radio engineering
and basically was restricted to aspects of communications and radar
, commercial radio
, and early television
Later, in post-war years, as consumer devices began to be developed, the field grew to include modern television, audio systems, computers
, and microprocessors
. In the mid-to-late 1950s, the term radio engineering
gradually gave way to the name electronic engineering
Before the invention of the integrated circuit
electronic circuits were constructed from discrete components that could be manipulated by humans. These discrete circuits consumed much space and power
and were limited in speed, although they are still common in some applications. By contrast, integrated circuits
packed a large number—often millions—of tiny electrical components, mainly transistors
into a small chip around the size of a coin
. This allowed for the powerful computers
and other electronic devices we see today.
Microelectronics and nanoelectronics
is the further scaling of devices down to nanometer
levels. Modern devices are already in the nanometer regime, with below 100 nm processing having been standard since around 2002.
Microelectronic components are created by chemically fabricating wafers of semiconductors such as silicon (at higher frequencies, compound semiconductors
like gallium arsenide and indium phosphide) to obtain the desired transport of electronic charge and control of current. The field of microelectronics involves a significant amount of chemistry and material science and requires the electronic engineer working in the field to have a very good working knowledge of the effects of quantum mechanics
A Bayer filter
on a CCD
requires signal processing to get a red, green, and blue value at each pixel.
DSP processor ICs are found in many types of modern electronic devices, such as digital television sets
audio equipment, mobile phones, multimedia players
, camcorders and digital cameras, automobile control systems, noise cancelling
headphones, digital spectrum analyzers
, missile guidance systems, radar
systems, and telematics
systems. In such products, DSP may be responsible for noise reduction
, speech recognition
, encoding or decoding
digital media, wirelessly transmitting or receiving
data, triangulating position using GPS
, and other kinds of image processing
, video processing
, audio processing
, and speech processing
are a crucial component in the analysis of satellite information.
Once the transmission characteristics of a system are determined, telecommunication engineers design the transmitters
needed for such systems. These two are sometimes combined to form a two-way communication device known as a transceiver
. A key consideration in the design of transmitters is their power consumption
as this is closely related to their signal strength
Typically, if the power of the transmitted signal is insufficient once the signal arrives at the receiver's antenna(s), the information contained in the signal will be corrupted by noise
Often instrumentation is not used by itself, but instead as the sensors
of larger electrical systems. For example, a thermocouple might be used to help ensure a furnace's temperature remains constant.
For this reason, instrumentation engineering is often viewed as the counterpart of control.
Computer engineering deals with the design of computers
and computer systems
. This may involve the design of new hardware
, the design of PDAs
, tablets, and supercomputers
, or the use of computers to control an industrial plant.
Computer engineers may also work on a system's software
. However, the design of complex software systems is often the domain of software engineering
, which is usually considered a separate discipline. Desktop computers
represent a tiny fraction of the devices a computer engineer might work on, as computer-like architectures are now found in a range of devices including video game consoles
and DVD players
Optics and Photonics
deals with the generation, transmission, amplification, modulation, detection, and analysis of electromagnetic radiation
. The application of optics deals with design of optical instruments such as lenses
, and other equipment that utilizes the properties of electromagnetic radiation
. Other prominent applications of optics include electro-optical sensors
and measurement systems, lasers
, fiber optic communication
systems, and optical disc systems (e.g. CD
). Photonics builds heavily on optical technology, supplemented with modern developments such as optoelectronics
(mostly involving semiconductors
), laser systems, optical amplifiers
and novel materials (e.g. metamaterials
The Bird VIP Infant ventilator
Electrical engineers typically possess an academic degree
with a major in electrical engineering, electronics engineering
, electrical engineering technology
or electrical and electronic engineering.
The same fundamental principles are taught in all programs, though emphasis may vary according to title. The length of study for such a degree is usually four or five years and the completed degree may be designated as a Bachelor of Science in Electrical/Electronics Engineering Technology, Bachelor of Engineering
, Bachelor of Science
, Bachelor of Technology
, or Bachelor of Applied Science
, depending on the university. The bachelor's degree
generally includes units covering physics
, computer science
, project management
, and a variety of topics in electrical engineering
Initially such topics cover most, if not all, of the subdisciplines of electrical engineering. At some schools, the students can then choose to emphasize one or more subdisciplines towards the end of their courses of study.
At many schools, electronic engineering is included as part of an electrical award, sometimes explicitly, such as a Bachelor of Engineering (Electrical and Electronic), but in others, electrical and electronic engineering are both considered to be sufficiently broad and complex that separate degrees are offered.
Some electrical engineers choose to study for a postgraduate degree such as a Master of Engineering
/Master of Science
(MEng/MSc), a Master of Engineering Management
, a Doctor of Philosophy
(PhD) in Engineering, an Engineering Doctorate
(Eng.D.), or an Engineer's degree
. The master's and engineer's degrees may consist of either research
or a mixture of the two. The Doctor of Philosophy and Engineering Doctorate degrees consist of a significant research component and are often viewed as the entry point to academia
. In the United Kingdom and some other European countries, Master of Engineering is often considered to be an undergraduate degree of slightly longer duration than the Bachelor of Engineering rather than a standalone postgraduate degree.
The advantages of licensure vary depending upon location. For example, in the United States and Canada "only a licensed engineer may seal engineering work for public and private clients".
This requirement is enforced by state and provincial legislation such as Quebec
's Engineers Act.
In other countries, no such legislation exists. Practically all certifying bodies maintain a code of ethics
that they expect all members to abide by or risk expulsion.
In this way these organizations play an important role in maintaining ethical standards for the profession. Even in jurisdictions where certification has little or no legal bearing on work, engineers are subject to contract law
. In cases where an engineer's work fails he or she may be subject to the tort of negligence
and, in extreme cases, the charge of criminal negligence
. An engineer's work must also comply with numerous other rules and regulations, such as building codes
and legislation pertaining to environmental law
Professional bodies of note for electrical engineers include the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
(IEEE) and the Institution of Engineering and Technology
(IET). The IEEE claims to produce 30% of the world's literature in electrical engineering, has over 360,000 members worldwide and holds over 3,000 conferences annually.
The IET publishes 21 journals, has a worldwide membership of over 150,000, and claims to be the largest professional engineering society in Europe.
Obsolescence of technical skills is a serious concern for electrical engineers. Membership and participation in technical societies, regular reviews of periodicals in the field and a habit of continued learning are therefore essential to maintaining proficiency. An MIET(Member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology) is recognised in Europe as an Electrical and computer (technology) engineer.
In Australia, Canada, and the United States electrical engineers make up around 0.25% of the labor force.[b]
Tools and work
Fundamental to the discipline are the sciences of physics
as these help to obtain both a qualitative
description of how such systems will work. Today most engineering
work involves the use of computers
and it is commonplace to use computer-aided design
programs when designing electrical systems. Nevertheless, the ability to sketch ideas is still invaluable for quickly communicating with others.
Although most electrical engineers will understand basic circuit theory
(that is the interactions of elements such as resistors
, and inductors
in a circuit), the theories employed by engineers generally depend upon the work they do. For example, quantum mechanics
and solid state physics
might be relevant to an engineer working on VLSI
(the design of integrated circuits), but are largely irrelevant to engineers working with macroscopic electrical systems. Even circuit theory
may not be relevant to a person designing telecommunication systems that use off-the-shelf
components. Perhaps the most important technical skills for electrical engineers are reflected in university programs, which emphasize strong numerical skills
, computer literacy
, and the ability to understand the technical language and concepts
that relate to electrical engineering.
bouncing down an acrylic
rod, illustrating the total internal reflection of light in a multi-mode optical fiber.
A wide range of instrumentation is used by electrical engineers. For simple control circuits and alarms, a basic multimeter
, and resistance
may suffice. Where time-varying signals need to be studied, the oscilloscope
is also an ubiquitous instrument. In RF engineering
and high frequency telecommunications, spectrum analyzers
and network analyzers
are used. In some disciplines, safety can be a particular concern with instrumentation. For instance, medical electronics designers must take into account that much lower voltages than normal can be dangerous when electrodes are directly in contact with internal body fluids.
Power transmission engineering also has great safety concerns due to the high voltages used; although voltmeters
may in principle be similar to their low voltage equivalents, safety and calibration issues make them very different.
Many disciplines of electrical engineering use tests specific to their discipline. Audio electronics engineers use audio test sets
consisting of a signal generator and a meter, principally to measure level but also other parameters such as harmonic distortion
. Likewise, information technology have their own test sets, often specific to a particular data format, and the same is true of television broadcasting.
at the Misawa Air Base Misawa Security Operations Center, Misawa, Japan
For many engineers, technical work accounts for only a fraction of the work they do. A lot of time may also be spent on tasks such as discussing proposals with clients, preparing budgets
and determining project schedules
Many senior engineers manage a team of technicians
or other engineers and for this reason project management
skills are important. Most engineering projects involve some form of documentation and strong written communication
skills are therefore very important.
- ^ For more see glossary of electrical and electronics engineering.
- ^ In May 2014 there were around 175,000 people working as electrical engineers in the US. In 2012, Australia had around 19,000 while in Canada, there were around 37,000 (as of 2007), constituting about 0.2% of the labour force in each of the three countries. Australia and Canada reported that 96% and 88% of their electrical engineers respectively are male.
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