When we discuss electrical engineering, we talk about the endeavor to harness and manipulate electromagnetic energy in order to accomplish certain tasks which we find useful or interesting. Sometimes, we use this energy to alter our physical surroundings. Other times, we simply sense, collect, and share information. No matter the application, we draw resources from the enormous quantity of systems, machines, devices, tools, techniques, and conventions that we have developed over years, decades, and even centuries.
From energy generation and distribution through our power grids we derive the ability to light our homes, wash our clothes, cook our food, and consume enormous amounts of information for entertainment, education, social connectivity, and health. Our transportations systems also use electrical energy, not just to move us with subways and electric cars, but also to regulate land and air traffic. When we need medical attention, many of the tools to evaluate the state of our bodies represent significant technological achievements rooted in electrical engineering. Of course, sensing systems are not limited to medical applications, but permeate every sphere of our lives. While some of the information collected by the multitude of devices is intended for human consumption, a lot of it goes into the control systems that adjust the various automated processes without ever needing human intervention. Some of these decisions are based on the human-developed algorithms, but more and more rely on machine learning in which the humans have only played a limited creative role. A branch of electrical engineering dealing with information processing systems has grown so much, that it is now a full-fledged discipline of its own called computer engineering.
It is interesting to note that the innumerable inventions that are so integral to modern society, operate based on relatively few key physical laws and require a manageable amount of mathematical tools in order to use, understand, and even improve the technology. Thus, a significant part of electrical engineering education is geared towards building a strong foundation of the relevant knowledge in physics and mathematics. The education is then extended into the various specialties. Some of the specialties, such as medical imaging, are geared towards specific applications, while others, such as signal processing, are more about a shared collection of tools and techniques.
Besides what one might call the theoretical knowledge base of electrical engineering, there is the practical side which involves a diverse set of skills and attitudes. Among the important skills is the ability use various laboratory instruments, such as power supplies, function generators, multimeters, oscilloscopes, as well as a number of computer tools and software packages, such as the Arduino processor and development environment or MATLAB. Somewhat less tangible skills include formulating a task and breaking it down into steps, defining and measuring success and adjusting the plan based on circumstances, working as a part of a team, and developing persistence based on previous experiences, are also a part of engineering education. These skills are best learned in a laboratory setting, especially when engaging goal-driven projects are formulated to guide learning.
Our introduction to electrical engineering is based on a logical exposition of topics, which sometimes, but not always coincide with the historical development of the field. We start by briefly contemplating the fundamental concept of energy conservation and how it relates to many engineering problems. We then discuss how the devices for storage and production of electrical energy, invented at the end of the eighteenth century, ushered in the era of technological innovation which created electrical engineering as a discipline. We take an example of the telegraph, which revolutionized communications by the mid-nineteenth century, as an application which necessitated understanding of electrical networks. After spending some time to develop the basic physical understanding and analytical tools of linear electrical circuits, we move on to introduce the devices which are controlled by their electrical state. Controlling electricity with electricity is the basis of electronics. After introducing electrical waveforms for energy and information, we introduce the devices for switching, amplification, and other manipulation of electrical waveforms. We briefly discuss noise which is a very important concept because it limits the amount of information which is available in measurement and communication systems. We then deal with the mathematics of converting information into the digital form, which is so prevalent in modern technology. Subsequently, we discuss how the digital information can be encoded for efficient storage and transfer. At the end of the semester we touch on other topics which we deem of special interest. This way, we hope to give a broad and engaging outlook on the electrical engineering discipline which takes a broad view of Introduction to Electronics, the official title of the course.