Is there any quantum mechanics in electrical engineering?

  • Thread starter madah12
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  • #1
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Main Question or Discussion Point

I am a fresh man in a a college of engineering I have yet to declare a specialized engineering major I am thinking of electrical engineering, and I am wondering if it involves quantum mechanics?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
fss
1,179
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Not usually.
 
  • #3
4,261
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No. We deal with the macro world.

Most of the EE is not even good in electrodynamics.
 
  • #4
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Is there any field of engineering other than nuclear that deals with quantum mechanics?
 
  • #5
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If you specialize in semiconductors or photonics (eg. lasers), you will have to study QM.
 
  • #6
rbj
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depends on how deep you get into it, but semiconductor device physics does require QM to get a really good understanding of the what's going on, at the subatomic level, in the solid state.
 
  • #7
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When you get into the semi conductor physics, you are get away from EE already. I designed bi-polar linear IC before, you ready design as if you are using transistors. Only the process engineer worry about the semi conductor stuffs. You just have to know the limitations when you do the design. I only have like two years experience, but that is how I see it. In fact the layout is similiar to pcb layout. You worry the same thing like cross talk and stuff.
 
  • #8
Born2bwire
Science Advisor
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I would say, yes. If you get into semiconductors you definitely run into quantum mechanics. If you do optics you can run into quantum mechanics. It all depends of course how deeply you go into the subject but even a cursory study of semiconductors will involve quantum mechanics via solid state physics (although the quantum is generally hidden for you but the theories are based on quantum). If you want to do graduate work then you will run into it more often. The group that I am with does computational electromagnetics but we have been shifting gears more and more into quantum mechanics because the research into classical methods is not as fruitful as it once was (and who can blame it, classical electromagnetics has been a theory for over a hundred years).

So it all depends mainly on your specialization. But in your general EE education you will probably not be exposed to quantum outside of your solid state physics for semiconductors.
 
  • #9
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Most graduate level optics and photonic (I guess they are under EE's umbrella) requires QM.
 
  • #10
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Most of the computer engineers at my school denounced our EE program as more like electrical science since it had a prevailing theme of qm, semiconductor physics, and electrodynamics with some micro electronics served as a side dish ( a mighty substantial side dish). I even took extra physics classes with the physics majors just to boost my knowledge not to mention independent study. Sorry about the rant I just got upset about the generalization made about EEs earlier on in this thread. In conclusion, EE is a broad field so you might end up closer to computer engineers or closer to applied physicists ( most of my EE professors were actually research physicists and it has been suggested that the departments be merged.)
 
  • #11
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No. We deal with the macro world.

Most of the EE is not even good in electrodynamics.
I have noticed this to be a sad fact as well. I guess I am more of an EE poser; I am good at electrodynamics as opposed to my colleagues. I tend to think of a fet,diode,etc in the order: physics of device, math models, intuitive/ideal model as opposed to intuitive model, math, then circuit design. I always reinvent the wheel. Maybe I should think about going into device design.
 
  • #12
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I think you should watch this video:

http://youtu.be/AfQxyVuLeCs

as an Introduction to the paradigm of levels of abstractions in EE.
 
  • #13
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UNFORTUNATELY no. Electrical engineering involves only problem related to macroscopic scale. You will have to live with the disappointment that you won't get to learn quantum physics in EE, like me.

Sad thing about that is that I ace the test on Engineering Physics at my college but come average on Electric circuits.

Solid State Physics is different story. In my opinion, that's not electrical engineering, that more physics field... If you get what I am saying. You will come across some concepts from quantum physics like Quantum tunneling in tunnel diode etc. but nothing serious, only mention stuff.
 
  • #14
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My undergrad EE program required me to take a quantum mechanics course, and I was introduced to the theories of semiconductor physics in more than one EE course. These were part of the "core" curriculum, and if you wanted to get more into the QM side of things, you had to start taking more specialized courses.

In general, QM is taught only enough that you can understand how the EE models work. EEs don't really bother themselves with quantum mechanics, but technology advancement is always pushing the fields closer together. However, if you have a solid EE background, learning QM should not be a problem.
 
  • #15
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I'm a BSEE, specialized in analog IC design and semiconductor device modeling. Pretty much everything today (and over the last 50 years) in semiconductors involves QM to a significant degree.

The basic semiconductor device equations for semiconductor conduction and PN junctions are all semi-classical modeling combined with QM.

That Flash memory in your thumb drive or SSD? QM Fowler-Nordheim (FN) tunneling is how the write/erase process in NOR flash and erase process in NAND flash is based on.

The latest process shrinks involving high-k dielectrics in 20-30 nm MOSFETs are required because the parasitic FN tunneling that normally creates gate currents hits a cusp increase as direct tunneling kicks in with shrinking the gate thickness. High-k let's them back-off on the dielectric shrink to control the gate leakage by increasing the gate dielectric constant instead.

The next thing after FinFETs/SOI will be nanoelectronics that is purely QM: simple Ohm's Law modeling doesn't work anymore and you have to determine drain-source resistance by solving Schrödinger's equation.

Certainly any current semiconductor manufacturing or design involves plenty of QM.

BTW the abstraction video link from MIT above is extremely valuable. Once you understand this, you understand how engineers do things. The key is to know when your abstraction fails so you can watch out for it in your design, analysis and testing. Every abstraction fails at some point.
 
  • #16
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Some of the graduate topics at the EE department of my school require knowledge in QM.
 
  • #17
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I dont know why many people say electrical engineering does not need quantum mechanics. But they forget the fact that there is broadly two part of electrical engineering - circuit and device. For circuit absolutely no need to learn. But for device (especially today's nanoscale devices) you need to learn it.
 
  • #18
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I think there is a quantum mechanics element in electrical engineering. You learn about band theory and it is all very important for solid state devices like everyone already said. My program required me to study it, and I think its common for EEs to take a course that at least exposes you to the concepts of QM, and what follows from the results of QM like band theory.

If anyone wants to say QM is not important in EE, then why do so many EE departments have entire groups dedicated to QM, semiconductor fabrication/MEMS, information theory, nano technology, etc.? EE is multidisciplinary, so some EEs will actually know a lot about QM, and some will never have to think about it.

example there:
http://www.ee.duke.edu/courses
 
  • #19
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Nano electronics are beyond my time, I can't comment on this. Device physics is quite remote from most EE designs. I was an IC designer long time ago, yes we need to know a little bit of device physics. But other than some very basic knowledge, we design circuits just exactly like design transistor circuits.

I do agree that people should take a class on QM no matter what. If I get through Classical Electrodynamics by JD Jackson, that would be my next subject to study. But getting through JD Jackson is a very tall order, it's the holy grail of EM, I will likely get into QM in my next life!!!!:rofl:
 
  • #20
828
1
Nano electronics are beyond my time, I can't comment on this. Device physics is quite remote from most EE designs. I was an IC designer long time ago, yes we need to know a little bit of device physics. But other than some very basic knowledge, we design circuits just exactly like design transistor circuits.

I do agree that people should take a class on QM no matter what. If I get through Classical Electrodynamics by JD Jackson, that would be my next subject to study. But getting through JD Jackson is a very tall order, it's the holy grail of EM, I will likely get into QM in my next life!!!!:rofl:
Nanoelectronics are beyond me too, but you still have to learn about the basics to be able to ever understand how or why they work on some level. I don't really understand the josephson effect, but I atleast am aware of the principles behind it to know why its used for some electroncis devices.
 
  • #21
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Doesn't Townsend breakdown criteria involve some part of QM, when calculating the probabilties of breakdown?
 

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