Electronics is the science of how to control electric energy, energy in which the electrons have a fundamental role. Electronics deals with electrical circuits that involve active electrical components such as vacuum tubes, transistors, diodes and integrated circuits, and associated passive electrical components and interconnection technologies. Commonly, electronic devices contain circuitry consisting primarily or exclusively of active semiconductors supplemented with passive elements; such a circuit is described as an electronic circuit.
The nonlinear behaviour of active components and their ability to control electron flows makes amplification of weak signals possible, and electronics is widely used in information processing, telecommunication, and signal processing. The ability of electronic devices to act as switches makes digital information processing possible. Interconnection technologies such as circuit boards, electronics packaging technology, and other varied forms of communication infrastructure complete circuit functionality and transform the mixed components into a regular working system.
Electronics is distinct from electrical and electro-mechanical science and technology, which deal with the generation, distribution, switching, storage, and conversion of electrical energy to and from other energy forms using wires, motors, generators, batteries, switches, relays, transformers, resistors, and other passive components. This distinction started around 1906 with the invention by Lee De Forest of the triode, which made electrical amplification of weak radio signals and audio signals possible with a non-mechanical device. Until 1950 this field was called “radio technology” because its principal application was the design and theory of radio transmitters, receivers, and vacuum tubes.
Today, most electronic devices use semiconductor components to perform electron control. The study of semiconductor devices and related technology is considered a branch of solid-state physics, whereas the design and construction of electronic circuits to solve practical problems come under electronics engineering. This article focuses on engineering aspects of electronics.
An electronic component is any physical entity in an electronic system used to affect the electrons or their associated fields in a manner consistent with the intended function of the electronic system. Components are generally intended to be connected together, usually by being soldered to a printed circuit board (PCB), to create an electronic circuit with a particular function (for example an amplifier, radio receiver, or oscillator). Components may be packaged singly, or in more complex groups as integrated circuits. Some common electronic components are capacitors, inductors, resistors, diodes, transistors, etc. Components are often categorized as active (e.g. transistors and thyristors) or passive (e.g. resistors, diodes, inductors and capacitors).
Vacuum tubes (Thermionic valves) were one of the earliest electronic components. They were almost solely responsible for the electronics revolution of the first half of the Twentieth Century. They took electronics from parlor tricks and gave us radio, television, phonographs, radar, long distance telephony and much more. They played a leading role in the field of microwave and high power transmission as well as television receivers until the middle of the 1980s. Since that time, 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 world’s first all-transistorized calculator to be manufactured for the commercial market. 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.