Electrical engineers are key players in the design and development of a very wide range of applications. In Belgium and elsewhere, electrical engineering can be found in almost all industrial sectors, as much in SMEs, spin-offs and research centres as in major companies.
Here is an incomplete list of example careers and application areas for the electrical engineering degree:
Electronics: electronics engineers work on the design, production and testing of electronic systems (i.e. complex circuit boards incorporating integrated circuits, sensors, energy recovery and storage… and their embedded software). They may equally specialise in embedded IT, designing applications running in real time on specific equipment with optimised resources and energy consumption, or in developing integrated components at the physical level. They may also be responsible for producing and maintaining control and instrumentation systems (biomedical, logistics, industrial, energy, automotive or aerospace…) or items for mass distribution (computers, smartphones, passports…). They are also becoming central in the deployment of the Internet of Things, security systems, cloud servers, big data, deep learning… in collaboration with many other specialists, technical or otherwise (humanities, law, medicine…).
Telecommunications: due to implementation constraints and the growing quantity of information to be transmitted, the challenges facing communication systems designers are as intense as ever. Choosing how information is represented and protected, counteracting or exploiting the characteristics of transmission channels, designing effective antennas, planning a network and serving a growing number of users at the same time while respecting electromagnetic emissions standards are just a few significant examples. Telecommunications engineers may be involved in optimising many different technologies, either wired (DSL, optical fibres) or wireless (GSM, 4G, 5G, WiFi, satellite…).
Health: in this highly multidisciplinary sector, electrical engineers collaborate with health specialists to provide a systembased view of problems relating to electrical signals. Electrical engineers are responsible for developing tools and methods that are essential for many stages of medical diagnosis and treatment. We think naturally of cancer treatment, which requires extensive knowledge of electrical and electronic equipment, radiation detectors, imaging and image analysis. We could also mention the design and interfacing of sensors and actuators for measuring or controlling physiological signals externally (ECG/EEG/EMG, respiration, perspiration…) or via internal implants (eye pressure, pacemakers, nerve stimulation…), the analysis of these signals (looking for relevant diagnostic information, identifying areas for treatment in medical images etc.), the transmission and security of medical data and support for treatment in the operating theatre (controlling medical robots) and in daily life (prostheses…).
Information and signal processing: signal processing in the broad sense involves analysing all types of data obtained using sensors, including cameras, microscopes, medical devices and satellite sensors. The associated roles lie at the interface between disciplines such as electricity, applied mathematics, statistics and computer science. In terms of applications, we could mention the fields of multimedia (slowing video, image compression), transport (GPS, radar design), biological and medical imaging and hyperspectral imaging (for pharmaceutical industry quality control or satellitebased earth observation). In this context, it is worth noting that electrical engineers stand out from other specialisms for abilities such as adjusting a mathematical model to the physics of signal acquisition (sampling directly, but also indirectly, such as magnetic resonance imaging) or to corruption (blurring, noise, missing pixels), guiding a machine learning process by looking for the inherent characteristics of the analysed object (e.g. for classifying medical or video images or segmenting them into distinct areas).
Advanced materials and electronic systems: electrical engineers may also specialise in the design and production of advanced electronic components on the micro and nanometric scale. This involves advanced concepts in the physics of materials, digital simulation and experimental characterisation techniques. The technologies studied include advanced transistors (FinFET, 2D thin films, graphene, quantum films, heterogeneous films, SiC, GaN…), different generations of photovoltaic cells, sensors (gas, light, magnetic fields...), molecular and organic systems and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS for accelerometers, ultrasound, flows…) in wide ranges of voltage (from the mV to hundreds of V), current (from fA to A), capacitance (from aF to F), temperature (from mK to 300°C) and frequency (from DC to THz). The speciality of electrical engineers is their ability to conduct these analyses in direct relation to their knowledge of the applications, the specifications to be achieved and the engineering models to be derived in order to enable design and optimisation, compatibility with integration at system level and the validation or qualification to be carried out under practical conditions of use.
Energy: the rational use of energy is a topical subject in which electricity has a fundamental place. We can distinguish four main aspects of energy in which engineers are major contributors: generation (from thermal, solar or wind energy, for example), transmission, distribution (via smart grids, intelligent distribution networks operating in a decentralised way) and use (requiring the increased deployment of power electronics, electromechanical converters etc.). Electrical engineers contribute their knowledge, their versatility and their specialised skills to respond to many crucial problems in the field of energy, including renewable energy (photovoltaic cells, wind turbines generators), electronic control (in networks, transport systems, smart buildings, smart metering…), electrical energy storage (in cars, residential PV systems…), data transfer and analysis etc.
Cryptography: protection for IT systems has now become a career in itself. Encrypting communications channels and databases, signing digital documents and performing bank transactions securely are all examples of applications that require expertise in which electrical engineers play a central role. Constraints relating to cost, speed and electricity consumption will require cryptographic systems to be implemented in smart cards, computers and specialised circuits. The choice of the algorithms and protocols to use will also depend on these constraints. For the designers and analysts of these systems, this requires skills ranging from the lowest level (circuit design and programming) to the highest (formal analysis of protocols).