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ENGINEERING AS A PROFESSION
Electrical and Electronics Engineering
Electrical and electronics engineering is the largest and most diverse field of engineering. It is concerned with the development and design, application, and manufacture of systems and devices that use electric power and signals. Among the most important subjects in the field are electric power and machinery, electronic circuits, control systems, computer design, superconductors, solid-state electronics, medical imaging systems, robotics, lasers, radar, consumer electronics, and fibre optics.
Despite its diversity, electrical engineering can be divided into four main branches: electric power and machinery, electronics, communications and control, and computers.
Electric Power and Machinery
The field of electric power is concerned with the design and operation of systems for generating, transmitting, and distributing electric power Engineers in this field have brought about several important developments since the late 1970s. One of these is the ability to transmit power at extremely high voltages in both the direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC) modes, reducing power losses proportionately. Another is the real time control of power generation, transmission, and distribution, using computers to analyze the data fed back from the power system to a central station and thereby optimizing the efficiency of the system while it is in operation.
A significant advance in the engineering of electric machinery has been the introduction of electronic controls that enable AC motors to run at variable speeds by adjusting the frequency of the current fed into them. DC motors have also been made to run more efficiently this way.
Electronic engineering deals with the research, design, integration, and application of circuits and devices used in the transmission and processing of information. Information is now generated, transmitted, received, and stored electronically on a scale unprecedented in history, and there is every indication that the explosive rate of growth in this field will continue unabated.
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Electronic engineers design circuits to perform specific tasks, such as amplifying electronic signals, adding binary numbers, and demodulating radio signals to recover the information they carry. Circuits are also used to generate waveforms useful for synchronization and timing, as in television, and for correcting errors in digital information, as in telecommunications.
Prior to the 1960s, circuits consisted of separate electronic devices — resistors, capacitors, inductors, and vacuum tubes — assembled on a chassis and connected by wires to form a bulky package. The electronics revolution of the 1970s and 1980s set the trend towards integrating electronic devices on a single tiny chip of silicon or some other semiconductive material. The complex task of manufacturing these chips uses the most advanced technology, including computers, electron-beam lithography, micro-manipulators, ion-beam implantation, and ultraclean environments. Much of the research in electronics is directed towards creating even smaller chips, faster switching of components, and three-dimensional integrated circuits.
Communications and Control
Engineers work on control systems ranging from the everyday, passenger-actuated, such as those that run a lift, to the exotic, such as systems for keeping spacecraft on course. Control systems are used extensively in aircraft and ships, in military fire-control systems, in power transmission and distribution, in automated manufacturing, and in robotics.
Computer engineering is now the most rapidly growing field. The electronics of computers involve engineers in design and manufacture of memory systems, of central processing units, and of peripheral devices. The field of computer science is closely related to computer engineering; however, the task of making computers more «intelligent» (artificial intelligence), through creation of sophisticated programs or development of higher level machine languages or other means, is generally regarded as the aim of computer science.
One current trend in computer engineering is microminiaturization. Engineers try to place greater and greater numbers of circuit elements onto smaller and smaller chips. Another trend is towards increasing the speed of computer operations through the use of parallel processors and superconducting materials.
Engineers in this field design, test, build, and operate machinery of all types; they also work on a variety of manufactured goods and certain kinds of structures. The field is divided into (1) machinery, mechanisms, materials, hydraulics, and pneumatics; and (2) heat as applied to engines, work and energy, heating, ventilating, and air conditioning. The mechanical engineer, therefore, must be trained in mechanics, hydraulics, and thermodynamics and must know such subjects as metallurgy and machine design. Some mechanical engineers specialise in particular types of machines such as pumps or steam turbines. A mechanical engineer designs not only the machines that make products but the products themselves, and must design for both economy and efficiency. A typical example of modern mechanical engineering is the design of a car or an agricultural machine.
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