Electrical Engineering - Definition, Education, Application & Specializations

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Electrical engineering closely impacts our day-to-day life and is responsible for various technological innovations we enjoy today. At its core, electrical engineering involves the study and design of devices and equipment that uses electricity, electromagnetism, and electronics.
Whenever you go to flip a light switch in your house or even check the time on your smartphone, it took a series of electrical engineers to make that happen. The everyday things that we take for granted – like being able to turn on a light when it’s dark – are actually the result of hundreds of years worth of work by dedicated engineers.

In the grand scheme of academic study, electrical engineering is fairly new. But in its short life, it has become an absolutely essential field in providing us the everyday comforts we enjoy.
Keep reading to learn more about the history of electrical engineering and why it is so important to our society that dedicated students continue to study and excel in this challenging and diverse field.

Why Does the World Need Electrical Engineering? Why Study It?

English physician, physicist, and philosopher William Gilbert is credited with introducing the term “electricity.” Although he did not spark the scientific interest in electricity that already existed, he could be called the first electrical engineer. Following in his footsteps in the 19th and early 20th centuries were such luminaries as Michael Faraday, Nikola Tesla, and Thomas Edison.

As technology progressed and electricity became much more widespread – from the electric telegraph to the lightbulb – so did the demand for people who studied and could work in this new field. At first, electrical engineers studied within the physics department at schools like Cornell and MIT, but soon they had their own programs. The first electrical engineering department in the U.S. was founded at the University of Missouri in 1886.

Electrical engineers in the U.S. today would probably be hard-pressed to find a job where they work with telegraphs, but there are myriad other applications for this specialized knowledge in the modern world. Electrical engineers make it possible for us to enjoy many of the modern comforts we have in the U.S., from smartphones and tablets to public utilities.

Reasons to Study Electrical Engineering

In-demand – Whether an experienced practitioner or a fresh graduate, finding a job in the electrical engineering market is relatively easy. As technologies are rapidly expanding, the demand for electrical engineers has been increasing at a very fast pace.

Opportunities are available globally – Almost every part of the world needs and demands electrical engineers. There are a number of companies outside the country that need and are open to hiring electrical engineers from other countries. If you wish to take up an electrical engineering job overseas, you will be surprised to find a large number of opportunities available.

The forefront of future technologies – Electrical engineering forms the starting point of innovations in many industries including healthcare, transport, robotics, and construction. This field forms the backbone of technological innovation. Studying electrical engineering will help students impact the lives of millions of people across the globe.

What Does One Learn in an Electrical Engineering Program?

This exciting field provides students with an understanding of complex designs and about building them from scratch. To excel in this career, students must have solid analytical and problem-solving skills. They should also demonstrate an inclination towards design, the ability to look at the big picture, as well as have an eye for detail.

Electrical engineering programs are not exactly the same across the board, but there are some basic topics that all programs cover. Undergraduate electrical engineering students will study mathematics, physics, and electronics as well as the intersection of these three main categories. Math courses in an electrical engineering program will likely include calculus, differential equations, and linear algebra, while physics courses will be at a more basic level. Electronics courses will cover circuitry, electromagnetism, and semiconductors.

Students that earn a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering can certainly go on to have fulfilling and lucrative careers. Still, many choose to pursue an advanced education with a master’s degree or PhD in electrical engineering. Graduate programs cover the same core areas at a more advanced level and may have more emphasis on computing and computer engineering.

Students will develop practical skills that they can apply to various different disciplines. Additionally, they develop problem-solving skills and their communication and interpersonal skills will also improve. They will learn to manage their resources and time in a better way and also assess risks associated with projects.

What Do Electrical Engineers Do?

Electrical engineers are involved in designing, developing, testing, and supervising the manufacture of electrical equipment, such as radar and navigation systems, electric motors, power generation equipment, or communications systems. They are also responsible for designing the systems of aircraft and automobiles.

Typical duties of electrical engineers include:

  • Designing new ways to use electrical power
  • Performing calculations for developing construction, installation, and manufacturing specifications and standards
  • Directing the manufacturing, installation, and testing of electrical equipment to ensure that products meet codes and specifications
  • Investigating complaints from customers, evaluating problems, and recommending solutions
  • Working with managers to improve production efforts

Branches of Electrical Engineering

There are a number of sub-disciplines related to electrical engineering. Electrical engineering covers but not limited to the following fields:

  • Power engineering: This subfield deals specifically with electricity as a utility, including the generation and use of electric power, and the electrical machinery that connects to these systems.
  • Control engineering: Also known as control systems engineering, this specialization deals with the design and implementation of controllers of various systems from commercial airlines to jet propulsion. Systems that are designed to perform without requiring human effort are called automatic control systems. Control engineering helps design these systems.
  • Electronic engineering: Also known as electronics and communications engineering, this branch of electrical engineering deals specifically with the designing of circuits and their components such as resistors, capacitors, and inductors. This branch was previously known as “radio engineering.”
  • Microelectronics and photonics: The advances in personal electronics, computers, electronic automotive systems, smartphones and cell phones, and lasers have all been possible due to the advances in photonics and microelectronics. This branch of engineering deals with the design and creation of small circuits, often requiring chemical fabrication.
  • Nanoengineering: This multidisciplinary subfield of engineering deals with innovative technologies at a microscopic scale.
  • Signal processing engineering: This subfield focuses on the analysis and synthesis of signals such as images, biological measurements, and sound. It deals with the analysis and manipulation of both analog and digital signals. For instance, one of the uses of both digital and analog processing is to filter signals and remove unwanted noise or separate two signals.
  • Telecommunications: This branch deals with the transmission of data across a channel, including coaxial cables, optical fiber, or space. An engineer working in this field designs and oversees the installation of equipment and systems. These professionals also provide solutions that revolve around wireless modes of information transfer and communication, such as satellite and radio communications, broadband and internet technologies, and wireless telephony services.
  • Instrumentation engineering: Instrumentation refers to the instruments used for measuring. These instruments are used to measure, indicate, and record quantities such as temperature, flow, distance, level, pressure, and angle. It deals with the design of measurement devices such as those used on aircraft, involving physics heavily.
  • Computer engineering: Integrating several fields of electronic engineering and computer science, this branch of electrical engineering develops computer hardware and software. Computer engineers are involved in the software and hardware aspects of computing, from the designing of individual microprocessors, microcontrollers, supercomputers, and personal computers, to circuit design.

The Present and Future of Electrical Engineering

Electrical engineering is just as important and exciting a field as it was when Nikola Tesla was still struggling to understand the true power of electricity.

Though it is easy to look at the news and assume that computer programming, design, and mobile applications are the only important technologies to pursue, none of those things would be possible without the help of electrical engineers. Even the car company that bears Tesla’s name would not be able to exist without the field of electrical engineering and a team of people who understood how to make an electric car work, and how to maximize its battery life (still an area in need of further engineering innovation).

The future of electrical engineering work is likely to be both large and small. Electrical engineers will be able to choose whether they want to focus on the intricate circuits that make up personal computing devices or the huge instruments that control spacecraft, and even entire power grids.

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