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Electrical and Electronics Engineers

History

Electrical and electronics engineering had their true beginnings in the 19th century. In 1800, Alexander Volta made a discovery that opened a door to the science of electricity—he found that electric current could be harnessed and made to flow. By the mid-1800s, the basic rules of electricity were established, and the first practical applications appeared. At that time, Michael Faraday discovered the phenomenon of electromagnetic induction. Further discoveries followed. In 1837 Samuel Morse invented the telegraph; in 1876 Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone; the incandescent lamp (the light bulb) was invented by Thomas Edison in 1878; and the first electric motor was invented by Nicholas Tesla in 1888 (Faraday had built a primitive model of one in 1821). These inventions required the further generation and harnessing of electricity, so efforts were concentrated on developing ways to produce more and more power and to create better equipment, such as motors and transformers.

Edison's invention led to a dependence on electricity for lighting our homes, work areas, and streets. He later created the phonograph and other electrical instruments, leading to the establishment of his General Electric Company. One of today's major telephone companies also had its beginnings during this time. Alexander Bell's invention led to the establishment of the Bell Telephone Company, which eventually became American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T).

The roots of electronics, which is distinguished from the science of electricity by its focus on lower power generation, can also be found in the 19th century. In the late 1800s, current moving through space was observed for the first time; this was called the "Edison effect." In the early 20th century, devices (such as vacuum tubes, which are pieces of metal inside a glass bulb) were invented that could transmit weak electrical signals, leading to the potential transmission of electromagnetic waves for communication, or radio broadcast. The unreliability of vacuum tubes led to the invention of equipment that could pass electricity through solid materials; hence transistors came to be known as solid-state devices.

In the 1960s, transistors were being built on tiny bits of silicon, creating the microchip. The computer industry is a major beneficiary of the creation of these circuits, because vast amounts of information can be stored on just one tiny chip smaller than a dime.

The invention of microchips led to the development of microprocessors. Microprocessors are silicon chips on which the logic and arithmetic functions of a computer are placed. Microprocessors serve as miniature computers and are used in many types of products. The miniaturization of electronic components allowed scientists and engineers to make smaller, lighter computers that could perform the same, or additional, functions of larger computers. They also allowed for the development of many new products. At first they were used primarily in desktop calculators, video games, digital watches, telephones, and microwave ovens. Today, microprocessors are used in electronic controls of automobiles, personal computers, mobile communications devices, MP3 players, video games, telecommunications systems, and many other products. As a leader in advanced technology, the electronics industry is one of the most important industries today.

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