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Thread: Distinction between "Electronics Engineer", and "Electrical Engineer"?

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    Distinction between "Electronics Engineer", and "Electrical Engineer"?

    I'm currently a high school junior, an love electronics. Not just circuit boards, but also deeper. How a microprocessor works, logic gates, and so forth. Until recently, I wanted to go into electrical engineering when I graduate. I knew that Electrical Engineers are usually more on the large scale, civil side of electronics(power companies, etc.). But I thought that it also encompassed what I am interested in. Now, I've been informed of Electrical Engineering, which, from my understanding, is more relevant to my interests. I've also heard that electrical engineering is simply a field of electrical engineering, which I can concentrate in. Anyone care to validate any of these possibilities? Or am I in the completely wrong area? As I said earlier, I'm interested in the architecture of the actual microprocessors(and on a larger scale, CPUs). How the transistors, capacitors, etc.combine to make the logic gates, which combine to make the microprocessor work.

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    If I understand your question correctly, you are seeking a little clarification on the various specializations within the broad discipline of electrical engineering taught at a university. Indeed, your question is a very good one.

    First, a little background might be helpful…

    A long time ago, when the field of computer science was just emerging, scientists regarded the subject as primarily focused on algorithms, numerical methods, and data structures. As a result, courses were taught by the Math Department. As the field grew to encompass a much wider scope, a separate Computer Sciences Department was established at universities. Courses added to the CS Department included: software programming languages, operating systems, storage implementations, and to be sure, processor architectures. And, it became very evident that there was a synergy between CS and some Electrical Engineering majors. As you highlighted, the realization of new processor architectures and storage subsystems involves the design and fabrication of advanced integrated circuits.

    So, schools typically took two steps…

    First, universities cross-listed courses between the CS and EE departments. CS majors could take related EE courses for CS credit, and (more typically) EE majors could take the CS courses in processor architecture, storage management, etc., for EE credit.

    Secondly, a new option was introduced for EE students. A computer engineering emphasis was established as a specialty in the EE major. As you said, EE is a very broad field, including: power systems, control systems, digital signal processing, (high-energy) plasma processing, radio frequency circuits and antennas, microelectronic circuit design and fabrication, etc. EE departments began to offer a new computer engineering curriculum. And, because of the interest from so many students, like you, to learn about both CS and EE subjects, many universities even changed the name of the department to Electrical and Computer Engineering.

    So, back to your question, and, a very subjective reply…

    An electronics engineer would typically pursue the courses with a microelectronics emphasis within the EE major: logic design, digital and analog circuit implementations, transistor modeling, circuit theory (frequency-dependent transistor and circuit behavior), and in some schools, microelectronics fabrication.

    A computer engineer would pursue the combined EE and cross-listed CS courses within the EE major. The computer engineer would take many of the same basic courses as the electronics engineer, but would then take a different set of advanced (junior/senior) courses, with less emphasis on transistor modeling and circuit theory, and more emphasis on the CS courses in processor architecture, data structures, etc.

    My recommendation would be to go to the web site of a university you may be considering, specifically one that offers the computer engineering emphasis. Search the ECE department course descriptions. See what courses are cross-listed between ECE and CS. Look at the required and recommended courses for the microelectronics and computer engineering specialties within the overall EE major. Hopefully, that will help you decide which area(s) are of the greatest interest to you.

    Tom D.

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    Last edited by Tom Dillinger; 3 Weeks Ago at 11:20 AM.
     

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    Quote Originally Posted by loydchase View Post
    I've also heard that electrical engineering is simply a field of electrical engineering.
    One thing that's important for engineers is to be accurate. I'm fairly sure that's not what you meant to write.

    Quote Originally Posted by loydchase View Post
    I'm interested in the architecture of the actual microprocessors (and on a larger scale, CPUs). How the transistors, capacitors, etc., combine to make the logic gates, which combine to make the microprocessor work.
    There's at least two different fields of study there; loosely, we can say that the laws of physics matter in one (where you're fabricating devices on silicon or whatever) and the laws of mathematics matter in the other (where you're using the devices to implement Boolean logic).

    BTW the CPU is only one part of a microprocessor, there's also the memory interface.

    As far as processor architecture goes, there's lots on the Web about it, see for instance Ben Eater and The Megaprocessor - Computing History but the most practical way to build one is with an FPGA demo board. The one I built (which had some features you don't find in 20th-century computers) is implemented on a Spartan 6 Spartan-6 FPGA Family evaluation board. Read the documentation on Xilinx's web site and download the tools (for S6 you need ISE, it's free). You can buy an eval board and the cable you need to program it for about $100. Enjoy!

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    I'm with Tom. My school offered a combined E&CE program (not to be confused with ECE), first year Engineering is typically the same regardless of discipline, but if you're in Mechanical then all your Calculus involving Mass-Spring systems makes more sense than an LRC circuit, and as an E&CE it is probably the opposite. At my alma mater they have now specialty disciplines for Nanotech (MEMS), Mechatronics (robotics), which used to be specialization or double-majors previously. Certain programs like Nuclear Engineering are only provided at the Masters level and you need to have significant grounding in nuclear physics and electrical engineering.

    You may also want to explore systems design engineering - Computer / Electronics engineering does focus more on logic design and functions of a processor such as ISA, Boolean logic, and certainly programming of same. Expect to learn some for of OOP, hopefully compilers, LOP, and some HDL programming in addition to things like transistor physics, and maths. lots of maths. Systems focused more on the higher-level programming models or circuit design (how would you design a motherboard or a SoC than a CPU Core, for example). Horses for Courses.

    If you are interested more in the physical formation side, semiconductor engineering has moved past the point of "just" electrical engineering and is far more a focus on material science, chemical engineering and nuclear physics (specifically photochemical reactions and lattice structures of compound materials, less atom smashing).

    But my $0.02 is that an Engineering program will teach you *how* to think as much as focus on specific learning of a discipline and the art of problem solving will be a boon in the future regardless of where you choose to apply it.

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    Electronic engineering is a field of Electrical engineering otherwise described as "light current only".

    Electronic engineering thus has everything to do with information transfer and processing whereas 'heavy current' electrical engineering has everything to do with energy transfer and transformation.

    Information transfer and processing includes: Antennas, RF (channeling and molding electromagnetics in confined spaces), Microelectronics (implementing on micro and nano scale), control systems, digital signal processing, and semiconductor devices design and implementation.

    Energy transfer and transformation includes power lines, transformers, AC machines (motors), power electronics (heavy-current semiconductors and circuits that transform voltage up or down), lighting (LED/fluorescent etc).

    Thus, electronic engineering is meant to describe the smaller subset of light current applications. To state it otherwise, electronic engineers will try to minimise power usage and maximize information transfer and processing. Fields of fibre optics and photonic circuits are therefore also included, even though those don't rely on electrons or electricity.

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