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Electrical engineering

Electrical engineering is an engineering discipline that deals with the study and application of electricity and electromagnetism. Its practitioners are called electrical engineers. Electrical engineering is a broad field that encompasses many subfields.



In the subfield of electronics, electrical engineers design and test electrical networks (more commonly known as circuits) that take advantage of electromagnetic properties of electrical components or elements (such as resistors, capacitors, inductors, transistors, diodes, semiconductors) to achieve the desired functionality.

Before the invention of the integrated circuit, electronic circuits were constructed purely from discrete components. These circuits consumed much space and electrical power, were more prone to failure, and were limited in speed.

The integrated circuit packs large numbers of electrical components, mainly transistors, into a small space, contributing to the ubiquitous use of electronic devices today.

In designing an integrated circuit, electrical engineers first construct circuit schematics (drawings) that specify electrical components and describe interconnections among the electrical components. When the schematics are deemed good, electrical engineers convert the schematics into actual layouts, which literally map out layers of various conductor and semiconductor materials (such as metal and polysilicon) on a scale of micrometers and nanometers. The conversion from schematics to layouts can be done by computer programs, although very often human fine-tuning is desirable to decrease space and power consumption.

Software simulation is essential in the design process of electronic circuits, especially integrated circuits (See SPICE). Models of semiconductor materials and electrical components are constructed by fabrication plants (fabs) and manufacturers of electrical components for the purpose of simulation.

Power engineering

The subfield of power engineering deals not only with electricity generation, electric power transmission and electricity distribution but also with electrical circuits and materials (e.g. insulators) that need to withstand high voltages and currentss.

Another subfield is accurate measurement of electrical properties. Measuring an electrical circuit inevitably changes the voltages and currents in it. The objective is to minimize the influence of the measuring circuit or even compensate for it. The field also includes sensors that use a material's electrical properties, or electromechanical means of measurement. Examples of the former are piezoelectricity for measuring pressure and temperature-dependent resistors for measuring temperature. These sensors can be used in control engineering.


Other major subfields of electrical engineering are telecommunication and electromagnetism. Transmitting information from one place to another requires a transport channel such as a coax cable, optical fiber or free space. These channels can be accurately described using the laws of electromagnetism, particularly Maxwell's equations.

Some other examples of how electromagnetism is put to every day use are antenna design for use in mobile phones, and controlling the form of the electromagnetic field in an MRI scanner by the exact placement and alignment of its electromagnets. Another technology made possible by electromagnetism is the microwave oven. The field of high-power radio-frequency (RF) engineering was once feared to be a lost art. Because of the trend for low-power, miniaturized circuitry, there is a perception that the need for high-power radio engineering and engineers is diminishing. On the contrary, the need for engineers and technicians in this particular field has never been greater, and the need will only increase in the foreseeable future.

Theories and tools

The theories and tools an electrical engineer can consult include mathematics and physics in general, the theory of electromagnetism, the theory of quantum mechanics, the mathematics of digital signal processing, control theory, the teachings of computer science.

Major Applications

;Electronics: integrated circuit, computer, electronic amplifier ;Power engineering: electrical generators, electric power transmission ;Telecommunication: television, radio, mobile phone ;Electromagnetism: radar, stealth aircraft ;Control engineering: auto pilot, cruise control, climate control, space exploration, smart bomb ;Signal processsing: electronic filter, digital filter, video and audio codec, radar, sonar, beamforming

Of course, everything is really a product of multiple subfields.

Professional organisations

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Institute of Electrical Engineers (IEE) are prominent non-profit organisations for electrical engineers that publish standards, publications and periodicals and organise conferences and workshops. The IEEE, in fact, is the largest professional organization in the world.

Related disciplines

Progressive miniaturisation in the production of electrical networks using semiconductor device fabrication has led to the development of complete systems on a single chip, a process called very-large-scale integration (VLSI). Microprocessors are a result of this evolution. This subfield spawned the related discipline of computer engineering.

Electronics that deal with both electrons (electricity) and light are also called optoelectronics. The related field of fibre optics has led to the development of fast telecommunication systems and the expansion of the Internet.

On the boundary of mechanical engineering and electrical engineering, mechatronics push the boundaries of what mechanical components can do and their integration with electronics. For example, the precise positioning of the laser in a compact disc player to follow a track is only possible due to electronics designed to compensate for the vibrations, the loss of focus, the irregularities in the disc, etc.

See also