What Is the Field of Electronics?

Is a Career in Electronics in Your Future?

Electronics is the branch of physics that deals with the emission and effects of electrons and the operation of electronic devices.

How Is Electronics Different from Electricity?

Many devices, from toasters to vacuum cleaners, use electricity as an energy source. These electrical devices transform the electrical current they receive through your wall socket and transform it into another form of energy.

Your toaster, for example, transforms electricity into heat. Your lamp transforms electricity into light. Your vacuum cleaner transforms electrical energy into motion that drives the vacuum's motor.

Electronic devices, however, do more. Instead of transforming electrical energy into heat, light, or motion, they actually manipulate the electrical current itself. In this way, electronic devices can add meaningful information to the current itself. Thus, an electric current can be manipulated to carry sound, video, or data.

Most devices are both electrical and electronic. For example, your brand new toaster may transform electricity into heat and also manipulate the current using a thermostat that maintains a specific temperature. Similarly, your cell phone needs a battery to provide electrical energy, but it also manipulates electricity to transmit sound and pictures.

History of Electronics

While we think of electronics as a modern field, it has actually been around for well over 100 years.

In fact, the first manipulation of electrical currents for practical purposes began in 1873 (with Thomas Edison).

The first major breakthrough in electronics occurred in 1904, with the invention of the vacuum tube (also called the thermionic valve). Vacuum tubes made possible the invention of TV, radio, radar, telephones, amplifiers, and even microwave ovens.

In fact, they were used throughout most of the 20th century and are even in use in some places today.

Then, in 1955, IBM introduced a calculator that used transistor circuits without vacuum tubes. It contained no fewer than 3,000 individual transistors. Digital technology (in which information is shared using a combination of 0's and 1's) became easier to design with the use of transistors. Miniaturization has led to a revolution in digital technology.

Today, we think of electronics as relating to "high tech" fields such as computer design, information technology, and design of electronic devices. The reality, however, is that electricity and electronics are still very closely allied. As a result, even auto mechanics must have a good understanding of both fields.

Preparing for a Career in Electronics

The field of electronics is vast, and electronic engineers generally make a very good living. If you are planning to go to college, you may choose to major in electronic engineering, or you may choose a university where you can specialize in a particular field such as aerospace, telecommunications, or manufacturing. In any case, you will be learning about the physics and practical uses of electricity and electromagnetism.

If you are not going the college route, you have several good options in the field of electronics. Electricians, for example, are often trained through apprenticeship programs; today's electricians must also be up to date with electronics, as most projects require a working knowledge of both. Other options include electronic sales, manufacturing, and technician jobs.