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Modern surface-mount electronic components on a printed circuit board, with a large integrated circuit at the top. Arduino ftdi chip-1.jpg
Modern surface-mount electronic components on a printed circuit board, with a large integrated circuit at the top.

The field of electronics is a branch of physics and electrical engineering that deals with the emission, behaviour and effects of electrons using electronic devices. Electronics uses active devices to control electron flow by amplification and rectification, which distinguishes it from classical electrical engineering, which only uses passive effects such as resistance, capacitance and inductance to control electric current flow.


History and development

One of the earliest Audion radio receivers, constructed by De Forest in 1914. Audion receiver.jpg
One of the earliest Audion radio receivers, constructed by De Forest in 1914.

Electronics has hugely influenced the development of modern society. The identification of the electron in 1897, along with the subsequent invention of the vacuum tube which could amplify and rectify small electrical signals, inaugurated the field of electronics and the electron age. [1] Practical applications started with the invention of the diode by Ambrose Fleming and the triode by Lee De Forest in the early 1900s, which made the detection of small electrical voltages such as radio signals from a radio antenna possible with a non-mechanical device.

Vacuum tubes (Thermionic valves) were the first active electronic components which controlled current flow by influencing the flow of individual electrons, [2] They were responsible for the electronics revolution of the first half of the twentieth century, [3] [4] They enabled the construction of equipment that used current amplification and rectification to give us radio, television, radar, long-distance telephony and much more. The early growth of electronics was rapid, and by the 1920s, commercial radio broadcasting and communications were becoming widespread and electronic amplifiers were being used in such diverse applications as long-distance telephony and the music recording industry.

The next big technological step took several decades to appear, when the first working point-contact transistor was invented by John Bardeen and Walter Houser Brattain at Bell Labs in 1947. [5] However, vacuum tubes played a leading role in the field of microwave and high power transmission as well as television receivers until the middle of the 1980s. [6] Since then, solid-state devices have all but completely taken over. Vacuum tubes are still used in some specialist applications such as high power RF amplifiers, cathode ray tubes, specialist audio equipment, guitar amplifiers and some microwave devices.

In April 1955, the IBM 608 was the first IBM product to use transistor circuits without any vacuum tubes and is believed to be the first all-transistorized calculator to be manufactured for the commercial market. [7] [8] The 608 contained more than 3,000 germanium transistors. Thomas J. Watson Jr. ordered all future IBM products to use transistors in their design. From that time on transistors were almost exclusively used for computer logic and peripherals. However, early junction transistors were relatively bulky devices that were difficult to manufacture on a mass-production basis, which limited them to a number of specialised applications. [9]

The MOSFET (MOS transistor) was invented by Mohamed Atalla and Dawon Kahng at Bell Labs in 1959. [10] [11] [12] [13] The MOSFET was the first truly compact transistor that could be miniaturised and mass-produced for a wide range of uses. [9] Its advantages include high scalability, [14] affordability, [15] low power consumption, and high density. [16] It revolutionized the electronics industry, [17] [18] becoming the most widely used electronic device in the world. [12] [19] The MOSFET is the basic element in most modern electronic equipment. [20] [21]

As the complexity of circuits grew, problems arose. [22] One problem was the size of the circuit. A complex circuit like a computer was dependent on speed. If the components were large, the wires interconnecting them must be long. The electric signals took time to go through the circuit, thus slowing the computer. [22] The invention of the integrated circuit by Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce solved this problem by making all the components and the chip out of the same block (monolith) of semiconductor material. The circuits could be made smaller, and the manufacturing process could be automated. This led to the idea of integrating all components on a single-crystal silicon wafer, which led to small-scale integration (SSI) in the early 1960s, and then medium-scale integration (MSI) in the late 1960s, followed by VLSI. In 2008, billion-transistor processors became commercially available. [23]


Devices and components

Various electronic components. Componentes.JPG
Various electronic components.

An electronic component is any component in an electronic system either active or passive. Components are connected together, usually by being soldered to a printed circuit board (PCB), to create an electronic circuit with a particular function. Components may be packaged singly, or in more complex groups as integrated circuits. Passive electronic components are capacitors, inductors, resistors, whilst active components are such as semiconductor devices; transistors and thyristors, which control current flow at electron level. [24]

Types of circuits

Electronic circuit functions can be divided into two function groups: analog and digital. A particular device may consist of circuitry that has one or the other or a mix of the two types. Analog circuits are becoming less common, as many of their functions are being digitised.

Analog circuits

Hitachi J100 adjustable frequency drive chassis HitachiJ100A.jpg
Hitachi J100 adjustable frequency drive chassis

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 or current 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. In fact, many digital circuits are actually implemented as variations of analog circuits similar to this example – after all, all aspects of the real physical world are essentially analog, so digital effects are only realized by constraining analog behaviour.

Digital circuits

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 a binary system with two voltage levels labelled "0" and "1". Often logic "0" will be a lower voltage and referred to as "Low" while logic "1" is referred to as "High". However, some systems use the reverse definition ("0" is "High") or are current based. Quite often the logic designer may reverse these definitions from one circuit to the next as they see fit to facilitate their design. The definition of the levels as "0" or "1" is arbitrary. [25]

Ternary (with three states) logic has been studied, and some prototype computers made. Mass-produced binary systems have caused lower significance for using ternary logic. [26] Computers, electronic clocks, and programmable logic controllers (used to control industrial processes) are constructed of digital circuits. Digital signal processors, which measure, filter or compress continuous real-world analog signals, are another example. Transistors such as MOSFET are used to control binary states.

Highly integrated devices:


Electronic systems design deals with the multi-disciplinary design issues of complex electronic devices and systems, such as mobile phones and computers. The subject covers a broad spectrum, from the design and development of an electronic system (new product development) to assuring its proper function, service life and disposal. [27] Electronic systems design is therefore the process of defining and developing complex electronic devices to satisfy specified requirements of the user.

Due to the complex nature of electronics theory, laboratory experimentation is an important part of the development of electronic devices. These experiments are used to test or verify the engineer's design and detect errors. Historically, electronics labs have consisted of electronics devices and equipment located in a physical space, although in more recent years the trend has been towards electronics lab simulation software, such as CircuitLogix, Multisim, and PSpice.

Computer-aided design

Today's electronics engineers have the ability to design circuits using premanufactured building blocks such as power supplies, semiconductors (i.e. semiconductor devices, 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), gEDA, KiCad and many others.

Negative qualities

Thermal management

Heat generated by electronic circuitry must be dissipated to prevent immediate failure and improve long term reliability. Heat dissipation is mostly achieved by passive conduction/convection. Means to achieve greater dissipation include heat sinks and fans for air cooling, and other forms of computer cooling such as water cooling. These techniques use convection, conduction, and radiation of heat energy.


Electronic noise is defined [28] 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 is associated with all electronic circuits. 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.

Packaging methods

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 wrap 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 brown colour. Health and environmental concerns associated with electronics assembly have gained increased attention in recent years, especially for products destined to go to European markets.

Through-hole devices mounted on the circuit board of a mid-1980s home computer. Axial-lead devices are at upper left, while blue radial-lead capacitors are at upper right MOS6581 chtaube061229.jpg
Through-hole devices mounted on the circuit board of a mid-1980s home computer. Axial-lead devices are at upper left, while blue radial-lead capacitors are at upper right

Electrical components are generally mounted in the following ways:


The electronics industry consists of various sectors. The central driving force behind the entire electronics industry is the semiconductor industry sector, [29] which has annual sales of over $481 billion as of 2018. [30] The largest industry sector is e-commerce, which generated over $29 trillion in 2017. [31] The most widely manufactured electronic device is the metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistor (MOSFET), with an estimated 13  sextillion MOSFETs having been manufactured between 1960 and 2018. [32] In the 1960s, U.S. manufacturers were unable to compete with Japanese companies such as Sony and Hitachi who could produce high-quality goods at lower prices. By the 1980s, however, U.S. manufacturers became the world leaders in semiconductor development and assembly. [33]

However, during the 1990s and subsequently, the industry shifted overwhelmingly to East Asia (a process begun with the initial movement of microchip mass-production there in the 1970s), as plentiful, cheap labor, and increasing technological sophistication, became widely available there. [34] [35]

Over three decades, the United States' global share of semiconductor manufacturing capacity fell, from 37% in 1990, to 12% in 2022. [35] America's pre-eminient semiconductor manufacturer, Intel Corporation, fell far behind its subcontractor Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) in manufacturing technology. [34]

By that time, Taiwan had become the world's leading source of advanced semiconductors [35] [34] —followed by South Korea, the United States, Japan, Singapore, and China. [35] [34]

Important semiconductor industry facilities (which often are subsidiaries of a leading producer based elsewhere) also exist in Europe (notably the Netherlands), Southeast Asia, South America, and Israel. [34]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Amplifier</span> Electronic device/component that increases the strength of a signal

An amplifier, electronic amplifier or (informally) amp is an electronic device that can increase the power of a signal. It is a two-port electronic circuit that uses electric power from a power supply to increase the amplitude of a signal applied to its input terminals, producing a proportionally greater amplitude signal at its output. The amount of amplification provided by an amplifier is measured by its gain: the ratio of output voltage, current, or power to input. An amplifier is a circuit that has a power gain greater than one.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Integrated circuit</span> Electronic circuit formed on a small, flat piece of semiconductor material

An integrated circuit or monolithic integrated circuit is a set of electronic circuits on one small flat piece of semiconductor material, usually silicon. Large numbers of tiny MOSFETs integrate into a small chip. This results in circuits that are orders of magnitude smaller, faster, and less expensive than those constructed of discrete electronic components. The IC's mass production capability, reliability, and building-block approach to integrated circuit design has ensured the rapid adoption of standardized ICs in place of designs using discrete transistors. ICs are now used in virtually all electronic equipment and have revolutionized the world of electronics. Computers, mobile phones and other home appliances are now inextricable parts of the structure of modern societies, made possible by the small size and low cost of ICs such as modern computer processors and microcontrollers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Transistor</span> Solid-state electrically operated switch also used as an amplifier

A transistor is a semiconductor device used to amplify or switch electrical signals and power. The transistor is one of the basic building blocks of modern electronics. It is composed of semiconductor material, usually with at least three terminals for connection to an electronic circuit. A voltage or current applied to one pair of the transistor's terminals controls the current through another pair of terminals. Because the controlled (output) power can be higher than the controlling (input) power, a transistor can amplify a signal. Some transistors are packaged individually, but many more are found embedded in integrated circuits.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Digital electronics</span> Electronic circuits that utilize digital signals

Digital electronics is a field of electronics involving the study of digital signals and the engineering of devices that use or produce them. This is in contrast to analog electronics and analog signals.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Semiconductor device</span> Electronic component that exploits the electronic properties of semiconductor materials

A semiconductor device is an electronic component that relies on the electronic properties of a semiconductor material for its function. Its conductivity lies between conductors and insulators. Semiconductor devices have replaced vacuum tubes in most applications. They conduct electric current in the solid state, rather than as free electrons across a vacuum or as free electrons and ions through an ionized gas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">MOSFET</span> Type of field-effect transistor

The metal–oxide–semiconductor field-effect transistor is a type of field-effect transistor (FET), most commonly fabricated by the controlled oxidation of silicon. It has an insulated gate, the voltage of which determines the conductivity of the device. This ability to change conductivity with the amount of applied voltage can be used for amplifying or switching electronic signals. A metal-insulator-semiconductor field-effect transistor (MISFET) is a term almost synonymous with MOSFET. Another synonym is IGFET for insulated-gate field-effect transistor.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">CMOS</span> Technology for constructing integrated circuits

Complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor is a type of metal–oxide–semiconductor field-effect transistor (MOSFET) fabrication process that uses complementary and symmetrical pairs of p-type and n-type MOSFETs for logic functions. CMOS technology is used for constructing integrated circuit (IC) chips, including microprocessors, microcontrollers, memory chips, and other digital logic circuits. CMOS technology is also used for analog circuits such as image sensors, data converters, RF circuits, and highly integrated transceivers for many types of communication.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Audio power amplifier</span> Audio amplifier with power output sufficient to drive a loudspeaker

An audio power amplifier is an electronic amplifier that amplifies low-power electronic audio signals, such as the signal from a radio receiver or an electric guitar pickup, to a level that is high enough for driving loudspeakers or headphones. Audio power amplifiers are found in all manner of sound systems including sound reinforcement, public address and home audio systems and musical instrument amplifiers like guitar amplifiers. It is the final electronic stage in a typical audio playback chain before the signal is sent to the loudspeakers.

Bipolar CMOS (BiCMOS) is a semiconductor technology that integrates two semiconductor technologies, those of the bipolar junction transistor and the CMOS logic gate, into a single integrated circuit. In more recent times the bipolar processes have been extended to include high mobility devices using silicon–germanium junctions.

In computer engineering, a logic family is one of two related concepts:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mixed-signal integrated circuit</span> Integrated circuit

A mixed-signal integrated circuit is any integrated circuit that has both analog circuits and digital circuits on a single semiconductor die.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Electronic component</span> Discrete device in an electronic system

An electronic component is any basic discrete device or physical entity in an electronic system used to affect electrons or their associated fields. Electronic components are mostly industrial products, available in a singular form and are not to be confused with electrical elements, which are conceptual abstractions representing idealized electronic components and elements.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Electronics industry</span> Industry that focuses in the electronics production

The electronics industry is the economic sector that produces electronic devices. It emerged in the 20th century and is today one of the largest global industries. Contemporary society uses a vast array of electronic devices built-in automated or semi-automated factories operated by the industry. Products are primarily assembled from metal-oxide-semiconductor (MOS) transistors and integrated circuits, the latter principally by photolithography and often on printed circuit boards.

The floating-gate MOSFET (FGMOS), also known as a floating-gate MOS transistor or floating-gate transistor, is a type of metal–oxide–semiconductor field-effect transistor (MOSFET) where the gate is electrically isolated, creating a floating node in direct current, and a number of secondary gates or inputs are deposited above the floating gate (FG) and are electrically isolated from it. These inputs are only capacitively connected to the FG. Since the FG is surrounded by highly resistive material, the charge contained in it remains unchanged for long periods of time, nowadays typically longer than 10 years. Usually Fowler-Nordheim tunneling and hot-carrier injection mechanisms are used to modify the amount of charge stored in the FG.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Biasing</span> Predetermined voltages or currents establishing proper operating conditions in electronic components

In electronics, biasing is the setting of DC operating conditions of an active device in an amplifier. Many electronic devices, such as diodes, transistors and vacuum tubes, whose function is processing time-varying (AC) signals, also require a steady (DC) current or voltage at their terminals to operate correctly. This current or voltage is called bias. The AC signal applied to them is superposed on this DC bias current or voltage.

A transistor is a semiconductor device with at least three terminals for connection to an electric circuit. In the common case, the third terminal controls the flow of current between the other two terminals. This can be used for amplification, as in the case of a radio receiver, or for rapid switching, as in the case of digital circuits. The transistor replaced the vacuum-tube triode, also called a (thermionic) valve, which was much larger in size and used significantly more power to operate.The first transistor was successfully demonstrated on December 23, 1947, at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. Bell Labs is the research arm of American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T). The three individuals credited with the invention of the transistor were William Shockley, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain. The introduction of the transistor is often considered one of the most important inventions in history.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Electronic engineering</span> Electronic engineering involved in the design of electronic circuits, devices, and their systems

Electronics engineering is a sub-discipline of electrical engineering which emerged in the early 20th century and is distinguished by the additional use of active components such as semiconductor devices to amplify and control electric current flow. Previously electrical engineering only used passive devices such as mechanical switches, resistors, inductors and capacitors.

This article details the history of electronic engineering. Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary (1972) defines electronics as "The science and technology of the conduction of electricity in a vacuum, a gas, or a semiconductor, and devices based thereon".

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to electronics:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">MOSFET applications</span> Wikimedia list article

The metal–oxide–semiconductor field-effect transistor, also known as the metal–oxide–silicon transistor, is a type of insulated-gate field-effect transistor (IGFET) that is fabricated by the controlled oxidation of a semiconductor, typically silicon. The voltage of the covered gate determines the electrical conductivity of the device; this ability to change conductivity with the amount of applied voltage can be used for amplifying or switching electronic signals.


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Further reading