Thales of Miletus, an ancient Greek philosopher, writing at around 600 B.C.E., described a form of static electricity, noting that rubbing fur on various substances, such as amber, would cause a particular attraction between the two. He noted that the amber buttons could attract light objects such as hair and that if they rubbed the amber for long enough they could even get a spark to jump.
At around 450 B.C.E. Democritus, a later Greek philosopher, developed an atomic theory that was remarkably similar to our modern atomic theory. His mentor, Leucippus, is credited with this same theory. The hypothesis of Leucippus and Democritus held everything to be composed of atoms. But these atoms, called “atomos”, were indivisible, and indestructible. He presciently stated that between atoms lies empty space, and that atoms are constantly in motion. He was incorrect only in stating that atoms come in different sizes and shapes. Each object had its own shaped and sized atom.
An object found in Iraq in 1938, dated to about 250 B.C.E. and called the Baghdad Battery, resembles a galvanic cell and is believed by some to have been used for electroplating inMesopotamia, although this has not yet been proven.
17th century developments
Electricity would remain little more than an intellectual curiosity for millennia until 1500
When the Italian scientist Girolamo Cardano started a study on electricity in De Subtilitate (1550), distinguishing for the first time the electric strength from the magnetic one. In the 1600 the English scientist, William Gilbert extended the study of Cardano on electricity and magnetism, distinguishing the lodestone effect from static electricity produced by rubbing amber. He coined the New Latin word electricus (“of amber” or “like amber”, from ??e?t??? [elektron], the Greek word for “amber”) to refer to the property of attracting small objects after being rubbed. This association gave rise to the English words “electric” and “electricity”, which made their first appearance in print in Thomas Browne’s Pseudodoxia Epidemica of 1646.
Further work was conducted by Otto von Guericke who showed electrostatic repulsion. Robert Boyle also published work.
18th century developments
By 1705, Hauksbee had discovered that if he placed a small amount of mercury in the glass of his modified version of Otto von Guericke’s generator, evacuated the air from it to create a mild vacuum and rubbed the ball in order to build up a charge, a glow was visible if he placed his hand on the outside of the ball. This glow was bright enough to read by. It seemed to be similar to St. Elmo’s Fire. This effect later became the basis of the gas-discharge lamp, which led to neon lighting and mercury vapor lamps. In 1706 he produced an ‘Influence machine’ to generate this effect. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society the same year.
Hauksbee continued to experiment with electricity, making numerous observations and developing machines to generate and demonstrate various electrical phenomena. In 1709 he publishedPhysico-Mechanical Experiments on Various Subjects which summarized much of his scientific work.
Stephen Gray discovered the importance of insulators and conductors. C. F. du Fay seeing his work, developed a “two-fluid” theory of electricity.
In the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin conducted extensive research in electricity, selling his possessions to fund his work. In June 1752 he is reputed to have attached a metal key to the bottom of a dampened kite string and flown the kite in a storm-threatened sky. A succession of sparks jumping from the key to the back of his hand showed that lightning was indeed electrical in nature. He also explained the apparently paradoxical behavior of the Leyden jar as a device for storing large amounts of electrical charge, by coming up with the single fluid, two states theory of electricity.
In 1791, Luigi Galvani published his discovery of bioelectricity, demonstrating that electricity was the medium by which nerve cells passed signals to the muscles. Alessandro Volta’s battery, or voltaic pile, of 1800, made from alternating layers of zinc and copper, provided scientists with a more reliable source of electrical energy than the electrostatic machines previously used.
19th century developments
In the 19th century, the subject of electrical engineering, with the tools of modern research techniques, started to intensify. Notable developments in this century include the work of Georg Ohm, who in 1827 quantified the relationship between the electric current and potential difference in a conductor, Michael Faraday, the discoverer of electromagnetic induction in 1831, and James Clerk Maxwell, who in 1873 published a unified theory of electricity and magnetism in his treatise on Electricity and Magnetism. In the 1830s, Georg Ohm also constructed an early electrostatic machine. Thehomopolar generator was developed first by Michael Faraday during his memorable experiments in 1831. It was the beginning of modern dynamos — that is, electrical generators which operate using a magnetic field. The invention of the industrial generator, which didn’t need external magnetic power in 1866 by Werner von Siemens made a large series of other inventions in the wake possible. In 1878, the British inventor James Wimshurst developed an apparatus that had two glass disks mounted on two shafts. It was not till 1883 that the Wimshurst machine was more fully reported to the scientific community.
During the latter part of the 1800s, the study of electricity was largely considered to be a subfield of physics. It was not until the late 19th century that universities started to offer degrees in electrical engineering. In 1882, Darmstadt University of Technology founded the first chair and the first faculty of electrical engineering worldwide. In the same year, under Professor Charles Cross, theMassachusetts Institute of Technology began offering the first option of Electrical Engineering within a physics department. In 1883, Darmstadt University of Technology and Cornell University introduced the world’s first courses of study in electrical engineering and in 1885 the University College London founded the first chair of electrical engineering in the United Kingdom. The University of Missouri subsequently established the first department of electrical engineering in the United States in 1886.
During this period work in the area increased dramatically. In 1882 Edison switched on the world’s first large-scale electrical supply network that provided 110 voltsdirect current to fifty-nine customers in lower Manhattan. In the late 1880s saw the spread of a competing form of power distribution known as alternating currentbacked by George Westinghouse. The rivalry between the Westinghouse and Edison systems was known as the “War of Currents”. AC eventually replaced DC for generation and power distribution, enormously extending the range and improving the safety and efficiency of power distribution.
George Westinghouse, American entrepreneur and engineer, financially backed the development of a practical AC power network.
By the end of the 19th century, figures in the progress of electrical engineering were beginning to emerge. Charles Proteus Steinmetz helped foster the development of alternating current that made possible the expansion of the electric power industry in the United States, formulating mathematical theories for engineers.
Emergence of radio and electronics
During the development of radio, many scientists and inventors contributed to radio technology and electronics. In his classic UHF experiments of 1888, Heinrich Hertz demonstrated the existence of airborn electromagnetic waves (radio waves) leading many inventors and scientists to try to adapt them to commercial applications, such asGuglielmo Marconi (1895) and Alexander Popov (1896).
20th century developments
John Fleming invented the first radio tube, the diode, in 1904.
Reginald Fessenden recognized that a continuous wave needed to be generated to make speech transmission possible, and he continued the work of Nikola Tesla, John Stone Stone, and Elihu Thomson on this subject. By the end of 1906, Fessenden sent the first radio broadcast of voice. Also in 1906, Robert von Lieben and Lee De Forestindependently developed the amplifier tube, called the triode. Edwin Howard Armstrong enabling technology forelectronic television, in 1931.
Second World War years
The second world war saw tremendous advances in the field of electronics; especially in RADAR and with the invention of the magnetron byRandall and Boot at the University of Birmingham in 1940. Radio location, radio communication and radio guidance of aircraft were all developed at this time. An early electronic computing device, Colossus was built by Tommy Flowers of the GPO to decipher the coded messages of the German Lorenz cipher machine. Also developed at this time were advanced clandestine radio transmitters and receivers for use by secret agents.
An American invention at the time was a device to scramble the telephone calls between Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt. This was called the Green Hornet system and worked by inserting noise into the signal. The noise was then extracted at the receiving end. This system was never broken by the Germans.
A great amount of work was undertaken in the United States as part of the War Training Program in the areas of radio direction finding, pulsed linear networks, frequency modulation, vacuum tube circuits, transmission line theory and fundamentals of electromagnetic engineering. These studies were published shortly after the war in what became known as the ‘Radio Communication Series’ published by McGraw-Hill in 1946.
In 1941 Konrad Zuse presented the Z3, the world’s first fully functional and programmable computer.
Post war developments
Prior to the second world war the subject was commonly known as ‘radio engineering’ and basically was restricted to aspects of communications and RADAR, commercial radio and early television. At this time, study of radio engineering at universities could only be undertaken as part of a physics degree.
Later, in post war years, as consumer devices began to be developed, the field broadened to include modern TV, audio systems, Hi-Fi and latterly computers and microprocessors. In 1946 theENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) of John Presper Eckert and John Mauchly followed, beginning the computing era. The arithmetic performance of these machines allowed engineers to develop completely new technologies and achieve new objectives, including the Apollo missions and the NASA moon landing.
The invention of the transistor in 1947 by William B. Shockley, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain opened the door for more compact devices and led to the development of the integrated circuit in 1958 by Jack Kilby and independently in 1959 by Robert Noyce. In the mid to late 1950s, the term radio engineering gradually gave way to the name electronics engineering, which then became a stand alone university degree subject, usually taught alongside electrical engineering with which it had become associated due to some similarities. In 1968 Marcian Hoff invented the first microprocessor at Intel and thus ignited the development of the personal computer. The first realization of the microprocessor was the Intel 4004, a 4-bit processor developed in 1971, but only in 1973 did the Intel 8080, an 8-bit processor, make the building of the first personal computer, the Altair 8800, possible.
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