History of Electronics
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08-10-2010, 12:33 PM

This article is presented by:
Sudhir Kumar Routray
The University of Sheffield
History of Electronics

In this paper the history of electronics has been represented in a chronological order along with the discoverer/inventor, who actually is responsible for that. The effects of electronics on the contemporary society are very significant and without the study of the effects the history is incomplete. Thus the effects on the economy, computing and the society as a whole have been studied. In this paper the discovery of the transistor has been considered as the backbone of the development of electronics, but the pre-conditions which lead to the transistor era and the after effects also have been considered in detail.
How old is the electronics? Who can say? How can we say that when the electronics started? The answer is very difficult.
As long as the memory goes back we can say that in Greek and Indian mythology the people having extraordinary power were able to send message very quickly. So, what was the basis of that technology? Were they using any kind of wireless devices, whose components are electronic as today’s wireless devices. What ever it may be there is no clear idea of those technologies or no proof that whether they were using those things.
In the 21st century we are enjoying well developed electronics. In some form or the other everyday we deal with the electronic devices several times. So why we are interested to look at the past? Because it is required. Like the history of a nation from which its people get inspired (or learn something from their past faults) the history of any science inspires its future generations. Even more than that those who spent their whole life for the inventions/discoveries, they did not do that for themselves rather they did it for the whole society, the whole world. So we should tribute them. This electronic world was not just the effort of some years or decades, rather it is the result of the hard work of great minds since ages. So now it is the time to remember them.
In the coming sections the whole scenario of the development of the electronics in the whole world have been looked at in a chronological order. Also their effects on the contemporary society and economy have been analysed.
Electronics before Twentieth Century
Now let us divide the history of electronics into two broad categories. That can be done on the basis of development of the electronic technology and its use in the in the day to day life. Before the 20th century there was a little or almost no electronics in the day to day life of a common man. So, the time before 20th century can be taken as the pre-developmental era in the growth of electronic technology. So, we should start from the very beginning of electrical engineering, which is regarded as the parent of electronics. The formal beginning of electrical engineering goes back to 18th century when Franklin gave the explanation to the cause of thunder and lighting. It was a big mystery at that time. But, the lucid explanation of Franklin gave the first idea of charge flow and its consequence. Though the concept of charge was there before Coulomb there was no formal mathematical theory to explain the concept. So Coulomb’s theory was regarded as the first mathematical expression that defined the electrical charge in a well defined manner. He also invented the torsion balance and that helped him to calculate the force of interaction between the electrical charges, which is today known as Coulomb force after his name. There after the next big name was Luigi Galvani who discovered the so called bio-electricity from his famous experiment using the frog leg. He thought that electricity as one of the sources of life. That created some ideas that electricity is related to life at that time. But, anyway his famous frog leg experiment gave some solid basis to the future researchers to develop the concept of potential difference. The mystery of the frog-leg experiment was disclosed by Alessandro Volta. He repeated Galvani’s frog leg experiment using various types of electrodes. There after he concluded that the spark in the frog-leg experiment is not due to the frog rather it has a different reason. He told that when the copper and zinc electrodes are kept in the acid there arises some potential difference between the electrodes and the charges flow from one electrode to the there if there is any physical connection between them through some conducting wire. That was the first electric cell mad by Volta. After his name the potential difference is also known as Voltage. The strangest and the most effective thing in the history of electrical engineering is the merging of magnetism with the electricity which gives rise to the one of the most fundamental interactions of nature known as the electromagnetic interaction. But it happened quite late in 1820 when Oersted found that the needle of a compass is deflected when kept near a current carrying conductor. So from that observation he concluded that the magnetism of a compass is affected by current. There after magnetism is considered as an aspect of electromagnetism, not as a different entity. Ampere proved the relationship using algebra. Gauss also gave the alternative forms of mathematical equations to explain electricity and magnetism. Those works of Gauss are known as Gauss theorems. But it was not known why some energy in the form of potential difference is required to make the charges flow from one end to the other. The explanation came from the German scholar George Simon Ohm. He for the first time introduced the concept of resistance and conductance. In almost all the conductors there is some resistance that opposes the flow of current through them. That’s why the charges cannot flow in the conductors without the presence of any energy source in the form of potential difference. Then it was proved that potential difference is very important to keep the charges moving from one end to the other in a conductor. Potential differences can be created in various ways. At that time the chemical cells were the main sources of electricity.

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