ELEC_ENG 100: Electrons, Photons, and Bits: Adventures in Electrical and Computer Engineering



Introduction to contemporary topics in electrical and computer engineering via lectures, demonstrations, lab tours, and invited speakers from industry and Government.

COURSE INSTRUCTOR: Prof. Allen Taflove

BOOK/COURSE MATERIALS: There is no required textbook for ELEC_ENG 100.  All course materials are posted on Canvas.

When Offered: annually during Spring Quarters 

What is this Course All About? Electrical Engineering (EE) and Computer Engineering (CompE) comprise the technological basis of much of our modern society. ELEC_ENG 100 provides a broad survey of contemporary technologies, issues, and career paths in EE and CompE, counting as a one-credit unrestricted elective. ELEC_ENG 100 is taken by McCormick freshmen and sophomores who are undecided about their engineering major and want to learn more about EE and CompE. Students in other Northwestern schools such as Weinberg take ELEC_ENG 100 to satisfy their curiosity about how devices and systems such as cellphones, lasers, computers, and the Internet were developed, and how these may evolve in the future. While ELEC_ENG 100 is not required for McCormick's EE or CompE majors, it does provide a useful overview/preview of important topics that are instructed in the core and tech-elective EE and CompE courses.

Plan: Five weeks are devoted to EE topics and five weeks to CompE topics. Each week may involves a mix of presentations, bench demonstrations, and lab tours instructed by an ECE Department professor, postdoc, or senior Ph.D. student. Technical material is presented at the level of that published in Scientific American.

A key element of the course involves discussion of the historical background of each of the ten topical areas, so that students become aware of the fundamental developments and individuals that have shaped modern EE and CompE technologies.

No exams. Instead, grades are determined by two term papers: Term Paper 1 - In-depth report on a EE topic selected from Weeks 1-5, due by the end of Week 6; and Term Paper 2 - In-depth report on a CompE topic selected from Weeks 6-10, due by the end of Finals Week. Students must attend 25 or more class sessions to be eligible for a maximum grade of A. Else, the maximum grade is B.

Week-by-Week Topics

  • Week 1 – Image/video analysis; multimedia (image, speech, video, text) signal processing, with applications such as data compression, recovery, and transmission.
  • Week 2 – Medical applications of EE, including demonstrations of such instruments as an electrocardiograph, a pacemaker, and an ultrasound imaging system.
  • Week 3 – Communications, networking, and information theory; wireless communications and networking. History reviews back to Shannon and Viterbi.
  • Week 4 – High-speed transistors, lasers, photodetectors, nanofabricated photonic and quantum devices.
  • Week 5 – Photonic systems and technology including: imaging, metrology, quantum encryption and computing, and biophotonics (especially early-stage cancer detection).
  • Week 6 – The Universal Computer: from Leibniz to Turing; from vending machine to the Internet.
  • Week 7 – Data mining on the Internet and social networks.
  • Week 8 – Human aspects of computer systems.
  • Week 9 – Sensor networks: social and scientific applications.
  • Week 10 – Evolution of the microprocessor and its impact upon our daily lives.