Areas of Specialization
The EE major offers many areas of specialization. Below are brief descriptions of some of these areas along with a list of pertinent PSU courses. Many courses apply to multiple areas. When choosing technical electives, it is probably a good idea to make sure to include courses from at least 2-3 different areas rather than focus on a single area. Except where noted, completing the EE core courses (EE 210, 310, 330, 350, and CMPEN 270) is sufficient prerequisite for each of the courses listed below.
In addition, various minors complement the EE degree quite well. Click here for information about the minors that are most applicable to EE students.
Society requires information to be transmitted in a fast, reliable, and secure way. Study in communications involves the analysis and design of information transmission systems. Principles such as different modulation schemes (such as AM and FM), noise suppression, various transmission media and computer networking are discussed in detail. Different examples of some communications systems include radio, television, the telephone system, computer networks, GPS satellite systems, and microwave transmission lines.
With the proliferation of digital electronics, most electrical engineering systems will include computer hardware as an integral part of the system. Computer hardware courses are equally split between the Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering majors. These courses are generally accessible to EE students who have no advanced software courses.
Like computer hardware, computer software is used, to some extent, by almost all electrical engineers. Many EE courses use specialty software packages to assist in the analysis/design of various electrical engineering systems. In addition, however, courses SPECIFICALLY related to computer software are available. For the most part, these courses are taught by the Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) Department, for Computer Science and Computer Engineering majors. EE students, however, are allowed to take these courses on a space available basis.
Computer software courses can be divided into 2 areas -- programming courses and applications courses. Electrical Engineering students will generally be able to take the applications courses only with prior study of intermediate or advanced programming courses. Programming experience in itself is not a sufficient prerequisite.
Control systems are encountered every day, including in temperature/climate control systems in buildings or navigational systems in vehicles, and they also play an integral role in any manufacturing process, including assembly lines monitored and regulated by electronics. A control systems specialization provides students with the necessary mathematical and computer programming background to analyze and design both analog and digital control systems. Associated lab work helps illustrate thecontrol algorithms learned in the classes. One sub-category of control systems is robotics. At Penn State, robotics is covered more in industrial or mechanical engineering. However, a controls background, in addition to courses in signal and image processing, provides students with many of the fundamentals needed for future work in robotics.
Electromagnetics apply in many ways within the field of electrical engineering. Students pursuing careers studying wave propagation, designing antennas, or microwave communications will thrive in this area. This area strongly emphasizes Maxwell’s equations, Faraday's laws, and wave phenomena, which are often understood much more easily when time varying visual simulations replace equations and static diagrams.
We define “electronic design,” as the assembly of basic electronic components to accomplish some fundamental task that is replicated many times over in a practical system, although almost every electrical engineering sub-discipline uses electronics to some extent. The field of electronic design ranges from the basic design of IC's using discrete semiconductor devices to the fabrication of complex circuits on a single IC chip using VLSI techniques.
Unless you know exactly what you are going to do in graduate study, the recommended strategy for an undergraduate intending to study beyond the baccalaureate level is to take a series of foundation courses covering several different areas of technology. Specialization can then come at the graduate level. Two reasons for doing this are 1) most graduate programs have some sort of breadth requirement which requires technical courses in multiple sub-disciplines of electrical engineering and 2) exposing yourself to many facets of electrical engineering as an undergraduate may help you decide WHAT to specialize in during your graduate program.
Optical systems have become increasingly popular for manipulating information (optical signal processing), transmitting information (fiber optics), and remote measurement of electrical properties (LIDAR). Furthermore, electro-optical devices, such as liquid crystal displays (LCDs) have become a mainstay in high-tech electronic gadgets and laptop computers. The broad field of optics provides students with knowledge about the many building blocks within an optical system.
Once the bread and butter of electrical engineering, the power systems field deals with the generation of electrical power on both the large scale and small scale. Large scale power system study involves the understanding of how power is generated at the power plant and then transmitted to homes, businesses, and factories. On the smaller scale, power systems studies motors and generators, which convert energy from electrical to mechanical form and vice versa, and the associated power electronics
For many years, the largest research group in the EE Department at Penn State, the Communications and Space Sciences Laboratory (CSSL) , has studied the ionosphere and related effects such as weather and thunderstorms. Problems of interest include the design of instrumentation as well as the study of natural phenomena. The research interests have influenced undergraduate courses in many ways, especially in COMMUNICATIONS , ELECTROMAGNETICS , and OPTICS . In addition, courses specifically in the area of space sciences have also been developed.
Because semiconductors are the active components inside nearly all modern electronic devices, all advances in electronics ultimately come down to making better semiconductor devices and understanding how they work. Silicon is the basic ingredient in most devices and the primary material studied at the undergraduate level, though the principles are easily extended to other materials.
Signals -- both 1-D signals such as speech and audio signals, and 2-D signals such as images and video signals -- represent information. Processing these signals means extracting certain parameters from that information, filtering it to remove undesired components, coding it for efficient transmission, or many other operations. Because digital technology supports extensive manipulation and interpretation of signal/image data, signal processing is increasingly becoming digital. Therefore, a basic understanding of the effects of analog to digital conversion is key in understanding the design of modern signal processing algorithms. The signal and image processing field is a programming-intensive one in which various algorithms to perform these tasks are implemented.