Electronics is a branch of science and technology that deals with the controlled flow of electrons. The ability to control electron flow is usually applied to information handling or device control. Electronics is distinct from electrical science and technology, which deals with the generation, distribution, control and application of electrical power. This distinction started around 1906 with the invention by Lee De Forest of the triode, which made electrical amplification possible with a non-mechanical device. Until 1950 this field was called "radio technology" because its principal application was the design and theory of radio transmitters, receivers and vacuum tubes.
Most electronic devices today use semiconductor components to perform electron control. The study of semiconductor devices and related technology is considered a branch of physics, whereas the design and construction of electronic circuits to solve practical problems come under electronics engineering. This article focuses on engineering aspects of
Electronic devices and components
An electronic component is any physical entity in an electronic system used to affect the electrons or their associated fields in a desired manner consistent with the intended function of the electronic system. Components are generally intended to be connected together, usually by being soldered to a printed circuit board (PCB), to create an electronic circuit with a particular function (for example an amplifier, radio receiver, or oscillator). Components may be packaged singly or in more complex groups as integrated circuits. Some common electronic components are capacitors, resistors, diodes, transistors, etc. Components are often categorized as active (e.g. transistors and thyristors) or passive (e.g. resistors and capacitors).
Types of circuits
Circuits and components can be divided into two groups: analog and digital. A particular device may consist of circuitry that has one or the other or a mix of the two types
Most analog electronic appliances, such as radio receivers, are constructed from combinations of a few types of basic circuits. Analog circuits use a continuous range of voltage as opposed to discrete levels as in digital circuits.
The number of different analog circuits so far devised is huge, especially because a 'circuit' can be defined as anything from a single component, to systems containing thousands of components.
Analog circuits are sometimes called linear circuits although many non-linear effects are used in analog circuits such as mixers, modulators, etc. Good examples of analog circuits include vacuum tube and transistor amplifiers, operational amplifiers and oscillators.
One rarely finds modern circuits that are entirely analog. These days analog circuitry may use digital or even microprocessor techniques to improve performance. This type of circuit is usually called "mixed signal" rather than analog or digital.
Sometimes it may be difficult to differentiate between analog and digital circuits as they have elements of both linear and non-linear operation. An example is the comparator which takes in a continuous range of voltage but only outputs one of two levels as in a digital circuit. Similarly, an overdriven transistor amplifier can take on the characteristics of a controlled switch having essentially two levels of output.
Digital circuits are electric circuits based on a number of discrete voltage levels. Digital circuits are the most common physical representation of Boolean algebra and are the basis of all digital computers. To most engineers, the terms "digital circuit", "digital system" and "logic" are interchangeable in the context of digital circuits. Most digital circuits use two voltage levels labeled "Low"(0) and "High"(1). Often "Low" will be near zero volts and "High" will be at a higher level depending on the supply voltage in use. Ternary (with three states) logic has been studied, and some prototype computers made.
Computers, electronic clocks, and programmable logic controllers (used to control industrial processes) are constructed of digital circuits. Digital Signal Processors are another example.
Highly integrated devices:
Application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC)
Digital signal processor (DSP)
Field-programmable gate array (FPGA)
Heat dissipation and thermal management
Heat generated by electronic circuitry must be dissipated to prevent immediate failure and improve long term reliability. Techniques for heat dissipation can include heat sinks and fans for air cooling, and other forms of computer cooling such as water cooling. These techniques use convection, conduction, & radiation of heat energy.
Noise is associated with all electronic circuits. Noise is defined as unwanted disturbances superposed on a useful signal that tend to obscure its information content. Noise is not the same as signal distortion caused by a circuit. Noise may be electromagnetically or thermally generated, which can be decreased by lowering the operating temperature of the circuit. Other types of noise, such as shot noise cannot be removed as they are due to limitations in physical properties.
Mathematical methods are integral to the study of electronics. To become proficient in electronics it is also necessary to become proficient in the mathematics of circuit analysis.
Circuit analysis is the study of methods of solving generally linear systems for unknown variables such as the voltage at a certain node or the current through a certain branch of a network. A common analytical tool for this is the SPICE circuit simulator.
Also important to electronics is the study and understanding of electromagnetic field theory.
Computer aided design (CAD)
Today's electronics engineers have the ability to design circuits using premanufactured building blocks such as power supplies, semiconductors (such as transistors), and integrated circuits. Electronic design automation software programs include schematic capture programs and printed circuit board design programs. Popular names in the EDA software world are NI Multisim, Cadence (ORCAD), Eagle PCB and Schematic, Mentor (PADS PCB and LOGIC Schematic), Altium (Protel), LabCentre Electronics (Proteus) and many others.
Many different methods of connecting components have been used over the years. For instance, early electronics often used point to point wiring with components attached to wooden breadboards to construct circuits. Cordwood construction and wire wraps were other methods used. Most modern day electronics now use printed circuit boards made of materials such as FR4, or the cheaper (and less hard-wearing) Synthetic Resin Bonded Paper (SRBP, also known as Paxoline/Paxolin (trade marks) and FR2) - characterised by its light yellow-to-brown colour. Health and environmental concerns associated with electronics assembly have gained increased attention in recent years, especially for products destined to the European Union, with its Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS) and Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE), which went into force in July 2006.