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Do electrical engineers only work with circuits?

  1. Nov 29, 2013 #1
    My question is just like my title. Do electrical engineers do anything besides circuit work? Because I would like to learn more about guys career but circuits is all I find.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 29, 2013 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    Well - electrical engineering applications involve any stuff that can be modeled as an electric circuit of some kind... but also anything that would use electric circuits. But I think that's probably oversimplifying the ideas.
    Have a look at the research areas at Canterbury University NZ as a sampler:
  4. Nov 30, 2013 #3
    The concept of a circuit is huge. Electrical engineers work on devices with scales ranging from the atomic to nearly planetary projects.

    These circuits appear in everything from cars, spacecraft, phones, radio, the power grid, and so many more things ranging from washing clothes, to lighting buildings, to treating water and so many more things.

    But yes, it's just another circuit.
  5. Nov 30, 2013 #4
    So what is so complex about electrical engineers if it's only circuitry?
  6. Nov 30, 2013 #5
    If circuits and signals are easy and intuitive for you, then I have to say that there really isn't anything complex about it at all. The rest are just, you know, minor details about actual physics such as ferrite materials, skin effects, Seebeck effects, skin effect, antenna design, and so many more things.

    Study AC circuits, RF design, S-parameters, antenna design and the like --and then tell me that it's just another circuit.
  7. Nov 30, 2013 #6
    I'm not trying to offend anyone. It's just everywhere I've looked it hasn't really stressed how challenging and complex it is.
  8. Nov 30, 2013 #7
    "Challenging" and "complex" isn't really quantifiable. What is challenging and complex to some, are basic and intuitive to others. The biggest hiccup for me, at least, was the math can get hairy. If you are working for, say Boeing in there R&D department in St. Louis, you will see some highly complex circuits and have to use Fourier Transforms and Fourier analysis to really understand what is going on. Understanding the actual physics is this challenging part.
  9. Dec 1, 2013 #8
    I am not offended nor am I trying to offend anyone. My point of writing this is that occasionally there really are some very smart people who actually "get it" even without all the fancy class work. Such people are rare, but not unknown. I did not want to discount the possibility that you might be the sort that actually understands this sort of thing intuitively.

    So when someone says is it really all just circuits; the answer is, well, yes. It is all about circuits and the signals or power that are presented to them. Circuits can be as simple and obvious or as complex and subtle as you want them to be. Some can be coupled electromagnetically, some can be switched at extremely high power or ridiculously high speeds. Some react differently on the surface of a conductor than they do at the core. Power can be stored in many kinds of inductive or capacitative ways and these ways interact to form resonances and phase shifts that will affect how the circuit performs with a given wave form.

    The math for describing these circuits is fascinating to me, and perhaps daunting to others who have not seen these phenomena before. It is not particularly difficult, but it isn't commonplace knowledge, either. Not many people really understand the implications, or have an intuitive feel for what this math is all about.

    I didn't intuitively understand much of what the math was about. So I "plugged and chugged" just like I learned in school, until eventually, some rules of thumb began to make sense and pieces of what I didn't understand began to fit together. I still get flashes of insight as to what those handbooks, mentors, instructors, and many more resources told me in the past. You never stop learning the nuances of this business.

    Yeah, it's just a circuit, but there is an entire world of things that can happen in there.
  10. Dec 1, 2013 #9


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    From other threads on PF, I guess the OP is at high school or just starting college. Don't make the mistake of thinking that what Google finds on the internet about "circuits" (or any other topic) is all there is to know about them.

    Assuming you don't find simple electronic circuits particularly challenging, here's a "simple" question to try:

    Suppose you are designing a very high quality audio amplifier (i.e the type of hi-fi system that costs $10,000, not $100). One of the stages is a standard common emitter amplifier circuit using a BJT.

    The amount of heat generated in the transistor will change at the same frequency as the signal being amplified, because the currents and voltages are changing, and therefore the temperature of the transistor junctions will change at the signal frequency. Find the amount of harmonic distortion caused by those temperature changes, as a function of the signal frequency and amplitude :devil:
  11. Dec 1, 2013 #10
    Computer Science in many ways grew out of EE - and many of the best algorithmic code is still done by EE's. Signal Processing is a major field of EE - and I would not consider it being all "circuits". And this is only if you work as an electrical engineer - Electrical Engineers are hired to do many things other than Engineering. We also eat and breathe- and post annoying comments on forums.
  12. Dec 1, 2013 #11


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    Electrical engineering is a fairly broad discipline. Yes, there are digital and analog circuits, as well as circuits that must take into account the wave nature of electromagnetic energy (microwave engineering). Electrical engineers design lasers and solid state optics, work in micro-electromechanical devices, design better transistors (and sometimes the materials used to make the transistors!), develop error correcting codes and optimize the transmission of information (comms / information theory), design antennas, design computer systems, build complicated electronic devices, control systems, work on machine vision, power systems, etc. No EE can do all of this, which is why, especially at the graduate level and in industry, folks must specialize to become an expert in one or more of these things. So there are a wide variety of things electrical engineers can end up doing.

    I am an EE, and work with many EEs in many of these specialties; we usually work as teams so that we have the particular expertise exactly where we need it.

  13. Dec 1, 2013 #12
    Thanks for ask the replies. I think this really revived my interest in electrical engineering
  14. Dec 1, 2013 #13
    The best way to know what EE's do is to try to shadow one. Just look around your area at companies or even the electric company for your area and send a couple emails. Most engineers will be more than willing to show students what they do.
  15. Dec 1, 2013 #14
    Sounds good thanks! If I'm interested in electronics engineering would shadowing an electrical engineer still be beneficial?
  16. Dec 1, 2013 #15


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  17. Dec 8, 2013 #16


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    It sure would. I design circuits and my job is much, much different from what I would have expected in high school or just starting out in college.
  18. Dec 9, 2013 #17
    First, the term "circuits" probably includes a lot more than you think; it's not all resistors, capacitors, and inductors. Most circuits involve transistors and diodes, which are much harder to deal with (there are many simple transistor/diode circuits that you simply can't solve exactly by hand). Your computer's processor is "just a circuit," but the complexity of designing something like that is almost unimaginible compared to attaching a light bulb to a battery. Aside from the use of transistors, you have to worry about stuff like how long it takes a signal to propagate along a wire. What happens if signal A arrives 1 microsecond before signal B? Will that delay make things work differently than I expect them to? My point is, real life circuits can be pretty much as complicated as you want them to be.

    Second, not all electrical engineers design circuits. I'm in EE, and while I do have basic skills in the area, circuit design really isn't my strong suit. A lot of electrical engineering work is done at a system level. You don't just say "I need a circuit which makes my guitar loud" and then go draw out a circuit diagram. You first break it up into components. For example, "I need such and such a filter feeding into such and such an amplifier" and then the next step would be to design a filter and amplifier to those specs. But the process of determining what filters and amplifiers and other components you need and how to connect them is a big component of the EE design process. Areas like communications, signal processing, and control systems are all part of EE, but a lot of that is just figuring out the "system" part, without worrying about how you actually implement that system with a circuit. Figuring out the system part can require a lot of math with complex numbers and random variables, which I think is a large contributor to the percieved difficulty of EE.

    Finally, as jasonRF said, there's a physics component as well. When you get into high frequency circuits (MHz/GHz), the typical rules of circuits start to break down, and you have to be more concerned with electromagnetics. There's a whole field of EE focused on designing radio-frequency/microwave circuits and antennas. While technically still "circuits," the analysis is different compared to low-frequency circuits.

    I could go on, but the point is that while any electrical engineer should have some basic understanding of circuit design, there is FAR more to EE than "just" circuits.
  19. Dec 9, 2013 #18
    Thanks it's good to hear how much I can do in EE
  20. Dec 9, 2013 #19
    I graduated with an EE, but most of my career has been in programming.
  21. Dec 15, 2013 #20
    There is a computational plasma physics group at the Umich electrical engineering department. Plasma physics is a pretty interdisciplinary field, though. You will find it in physics, nuclear engineering, electrical engineering, and aerospace engineering, and planetary science groups among others if you look.
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