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Electromagnetism for an Electrical Engineer Major?

  1. Feb 15, 2013 #1
    I know I'm an electrical engineering major but I'm looking to get the most out of my courses. I'm curious about the significant differences between the two intro to electromagnetism courses offered at my school: the "engineering" and the "physics" versions. I'm not sure I get the whole applied aspect of the engineering version either. The department allows either route but the second course can only be in the selected sequence.

    Engineering Version: Fundamentals of Applied Electromagnetics, 6th Edition, Ulaby.
    1.) Transmission, lines, electro- and magneto- statics, time varying fields, and electromagnetic waves.
    2.) Maxwell’s equations, propagation and guides, antennas, coupling, and electromagnetic compatibility.

    Physics Version: Intro to Electrodynamics , 3rd Edition, Griffiths.
    1.) Covers the first 6 chapters only.
    2.) Remainder of the book and includes a few lectures on superconductivity.

    Background: Half of Physics Vol 2, 5e, Halliday, Resnick, Krane, and physics 1. No PDE’s but I’m not worried about the maths.

    Thanks for the input.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 15, 2013 #2


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    The physics course will expose you to a wider range of topics, including magnets and dielectrics, relativity, etc. You will get a section on radiation, but practical applications and devices (transmission lines, waveguides, antennas, EMC) will be mentioned lightly or not at all. The engineering class will instead focus on those latter topics, but will omit the wider variety of physics topics in the process. I expect, for instance, that you would see minimal treatment of relativity.

    If you take the physics course, plan to pick up the engineering applications over the summer with self-study.
  4. Feb 15, 2013 #3
    I used the Griffith's book for electrodynamics for my physics undergrad. After finishing the course a year later I ended up tutoring a good friend who was doing the equivalent electrical engineering course. I went over antennas, transmission lines, waveguides, and plane waves at dielectric boundaries. What I remember is that the antenna chapter for E.E. (which is supposedly equivalent to the "Radiation" chapter 11 in Griffiths) was definitely different. We were much more interested in electromagnetic radiation (the source of the radiation), which typically starts with a discussion of the simple oscillating electric dipole (which when in reference to an antenna the infinitesimal oscillating electric dipole is called the "Hertzian dipole antenna".) We went through all of the calculations to get V, A, E, B, S, <S>, and P in physics, in engineering, this was of no interest. These quantities were all pretty much given with little attention to the derivation (which to get V and A such that you can get the rest of these important quantities when discussing radiation/antennas is QUITE nasty btw, in fact the radiation chapter in Griffith's I remember being among the nastiest things we did as undergraduates..) I thought that was fairly crazy. Granted, this was a junior level course in the E.E. department and there was an optional senior level course on antennas in the department, I was still quite surprised however at the complete lack at achieving a "from the ground up" understanding of the material. That's what we gained by using Griffith's (along with other interesting topics in radiation (not discusses by the engineers who were specifically only concerned with the application of antennas specifically) such as breaking radiation, the calculation for the failure of the classical atom due to radiation, etc.) This being said, the engineers weren't without their pluses. Many types of antennas were discussed in addition to the simple case of a Hertzian dipole antenna. Half-wave dipole antennas (which is really just a superposition of many tiny Hertzian dipole antennas), strange antenna designs such as the Yagi antenna, antenna arrays, etc. Now, this was all quite easy to grasp if one understood the workings of the simple Hertzian (a term btw that you wouldn't even know from Griffith's), but still there was a depth of things covered (not necessarily a depth of understanding) that one gained by taking the engineering electromagnetism course. But constantly, all throughout the tutoring session, I was praised for my additional understanding which was simply due to me reciting important explainations from Griffith's (Specifically that the whole idea of radiation and antennas is to eliminate all terms from E and B that don't go as 1/r from the very beginning of chapter 11, among other things..)

    Waveguides was a lot more involved in the engineering course, but you weren't required to solve the PDEs that were involved. You did go into a lot more applications of waveguides, there was more discussion on cutoff frequencies, etc. Griffiths only spends a few pages on this.

    Transmission lines I don't even remember at all in Griffiths. Basically you had to use this thing called the "Smith Chart" to solve an algebraic equation relating impedence and I think reflection coefficients for the surface of some transmission line. These were engineering concerns that wouldn't really show up in a physics course, but is very important for engineers, so yeah you will certainly be missing out on this. It was a bread and butter topic for the engineers, it wasn't trivial, you'll have to read this section in the engineering book after you've taken the Griffith's course (if you decide to do that), and be careful when doing so (Smith chart is kind of weird.) If you've seen the Cornu spiral in optics to solve the Fresnel integrals it's about as complicated as that (which would be pretty annoying to learn on your own.)

    Plane waves at dielectric boundaries was covered in almost exactly the same fashion as in Griffiths if I remember right.

    That was my experience. Basically if you have gone through Griffiths (and understood it all), you will easily be able to demolish the engineering material (but not without reading it!) That being said, you DO need to spend the time to read through the engineering book afterwards to pick up these additional engineering topics. The additional antennas, the Smith chart, etc. However, you will have an understanding in electromagnetism theoretically that will be unparalleled by the average engineering students. Also you will have seen the unification of the magnetic and electric fields through special relativity, including a tensor treatment that combines the electric and magnetic field into one special object called the "electromagnetic field tensor".

    It's theory and understanding versus application and breath of material, plain and simple. It's also using 'i' to denote imaginary numbers versus 'j'...... There is somewhat of a language barrier between physics and E.E. students..
  5. Feb 16, 2013 #4
    This makes choosing a bit tougher.

    What if I'm more on the computer engineering side of things? Would it matter less which one I choose?
  6. Feb 16, 2013 #5
    At my school, the CompEngs can graduate without ever taking an E&M course and many do avoid the course because it's known to be difficult. The CompEngs usually focus on more software or digital courses than any physics type courses. Just out of curiosity, are you required to take E&M?
  7. Feb 16, 2013 #6
    It's just one of the major electives I'm considering.
  8. Feb 16, 2013 #7
    I think all EE students should be required to take a course in this area.
  9. Feb 16, 2013 #8
    I took Electromagnetic Field Theory from Griffith's text (first 10 chapters) with a mixture of physics and engineering physics majors. The engineering majors were somewhat disappointed in the course as although the material is very general application-wise from a physics standpoint it is not presented like the typical design scenario found in contemporary engineering texts. The further disillusionment with the course came from the professor who was an applied researcher in magnetic resonance imaging. What book did he continually refer back to fill in the gaps that Griffiths leaves out? John D. Kraus's Electromagnetics with Applications.

    The question you must ask yourself is - What are you trying to get out of the course? Are you planning on graduate school in EE or physics? If so you may consider the course using the Griffiths text as it will help studying J.D. Jackson's text later on. If not the EE course is probably more practical.

    I personally found Griffiths book to be rather dry and not very rigorous. I also skimmed through Kraus and several other EE E&M books and thought a few (Kraus included) where rather more interesting.

    BTW-whether you take the EE or physics version must haves for practicing your problem solving are REA Electromagnetics Problem Solver and Problems and Solutions in Electromagnetic Theory by Lerner

    EDIT: as a comp engr I think either would be useful.

    ~my 2 cents
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2013
  10. Feb 16, 2013 #9
    I have no intention of physics grad school (not yet as far as I know). There are such things as Computer Engineering at some grad schools. Here, we just go by EE and take all the CS and EE courses we want for a specialty.

    What I'm trying to get out of the course is a difficult question. I don't know much from either. These courses aren't strictly required. But it's one of the more interesting electives. I'm more of a computer engineering major.
  11. Feb 16, 2013 #10
    It will be totally unlike a course in Computer Arch./Microprocessor/Embedded systems/Digital etc.. However, if you have taken a Quantum Physics course (which every Comp. Eng. should) you will probably like it. How can one devise a device that operates under the laws of E&M and quantum tunneling without a background in either? Any knowledge is useful knowledge but I in the case of E&M I would strongly recommend it.
  12. Feb 17, 2013 #11


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    Agreed. For a computer engineer I would tend to recommend the EE version over the physics version because EE will emphasize aspects that are directly applicable. However, I don't think the OP can go terribly wrong either way. That is, unless the EE version is as awful as the one dydxforsn described! When I took a year of junior year electromagnetics from the EE department we did indeed have to solve Maxwell's equations, solve the Hertzian and elementary magnetic dipoles, compute V,A,B,E,<S>, etc. By the end of the course I could start from Maxwell's equations and derive almost everything we had covered. Perhaps the days of EE departments teaching EM this way are gone (I took it 20 years ago) - but I sure hope not. I hate to admit it, but I suspect it is more likely for an EE department than a Physics department to ruin this class. Perhaps the OP should ask students and faculty about the courses to see how well they are done.

    As other posters have noted, in EE you will learn more about transmission lines and impedance matching (important for some high speed interconnects and rf cables), waveguides and cavity resonators, antennas and antenna arrays, and perhaps propagation though gyrotropic media like magnetized ferrites (used in some microwave components) and magnetized plasmas (useful for satellite and HF comms). The standard physics text (griffiths) skips most/all of that, but does a much better job of describing the physics behind the electromagnetic properties of materials, actually discusses momentum in the elctromagnetic field (why do EE texts skip that?!?), radiation from single accelerated charges, and special relativity and relativistic electrodynamics. EDIT: If you do the physics version, you really should learn about tranmission lines and impedance matching afterwards, as it is fundamental to how many electrical systems work. Also, you should check any upper division courses you may want to take - some may require the EE version (eg. microwave engineering courses).

    Last edited: Feb 17, 2013
  13. Feb 25, 2013 #12
    As someone who has taken both physics and EE electromagnetics courses, I recommend you take the EE course. Especially considering you are leaning towards comp eng, the material you gain in the EE course will be MUCH more useful than that in a physics course.

    The physics course will be much more theoretical, and give you a big picture sort of idea of electromagnetism. The engineering course will skip much of the mathematics and "beauty" of EM so to speak and go straight to applications.

    Both courses are great in their own respects, but if you don't plan on taking any further EM courses, you would get much more use out of the EE version. The things you learn would be very useful and very applicable to many jobs that exist out there in EE and physics.
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