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Electrical engineering is a professional engineering discipline that generally deals with the study and application of electricity, electronics, and electromagnetism. This field first became an identifiable occupation in the later half of the 19th century after commercialization of the electric telegraph, the telephone, and electric power distribution and use. Subsequently, broadcasting and recording media made electronics part of daily life. The invention of the transistor, and later the integrated circuit, brought down the cost of electronics to the point they can be used in almost any household object.
Electrical engineering has now subdivided into a wide range of subfields including electronics, digital computers, computer engineering, power engineering, telecommunications, control systems, radio-frequency engineering, signal processing, instrumentation, and microelectronics. Electrical engineers typically hold a degree in electrical engineering or electronic engineering. Practicing engineers may have professional certification and be members of a professional body. Electrical engineers work in a very wide range of industries and the skills required are likewise variable.
These range from basic circuit theory to the management skills required of a project manager. The tools and equipment that an individual engineer may need are similarly variable, ranging from a simple voltmeter to a top end analyzer to sophisticated design and manufacturing software. Electricity has been a subject of scientific interest since at least the early 17th century. William Gilbert was a prominent early electrical scientist, who was the first to draw a clear distinction between magnetism and static electricity.
He is credited with establishing the term “electricity”. He also designed the versorium: a device that detects the presence of statically charged objects. In 1762 Swedish professor Johan Carl Wilcke invented a device later named electrophorus that produced a static electric charge.
By 1800 Alessandro Volta had developed the voltaic pile, a forerunner of the electric battery. In the 19th century, research into the subject started to intensify. James Clerk Maxwell, who in 1873 published a unified theory of electricity and magnetism in his treatise Electricity and Magnetism. Electrical engineering became a profession in the later 19th century.
Practitioners had created a global electric telegraph network and the first professional electrical engineering institutions were founded in the UK and USA to support the new discipline. Although it is impossible to precisely pinpoint a first electrical engineer, Francis Ronalds stands ahead of the field, who created the first working electric telegraph system in 1816 and documented his vision of how the world could be transformed by electricity. By the end of the 19th century, the world had been forever changed by the rapid communication made possible by the engineering development of land-lines, submarine cables, and, from about 1890, wireless telegraphy. Practical applications and advances in such fields created an increasing need for standardised units of measure.