What should Electrical Engineering students buy for their first semester?
Electrical Engineering (EE) is a field that encompasses a wide range of specialties, but for students learning the basics, there are some tools that apply to almost everything, and make learning more interesting and fun.
We've put together a wish list with all the fundamental items needed to set you up for a life in Electrical Engineering.
Electrical Engineering Wishlist Giveaway
STEM Giveaway Prize
- Tenma DC Powersupply
- Multicomp Breadboard
- Multicomp Soldering Iron
- What was the first thing you learned in engineering school that stuck with you throughout your career?
- What is missing from this list?
Post your answer as a comment below between 21st September 2021 and 31st October 2021.
The best answers will be chosen by the element14 community team, and you will be shipped your prize (or local equivalent) free of charge.
List of Items:
As an EE student, you'll want to have your own basic set of tools to make your life easier. These are some of tools that every EE needs, no matter what their specialty:
Needle-nose Pliers -
Electronic components are tiny and wiring up those tiny connectors is something our hands are just not built for. Needle-nose pliers are essential for any kind of circuit building.
One of my lab partners use to strip wires with his teeth. With a few bites, a twist, and a pull, he'd have any gauge wire stripped and ready to go. For us regular people, wire strippers are mandatory.
Loupe or Magnifying Glass
Loupes or magnifying glasses are incredibly helpful when soldering or working with a breadboard.
I don't envy anyone who has to modify a circuit made up of surface mount components, but for those types of jobs, eagle eyes, steady hands, patience, and a good set of tweezers are required.
A breadboard is a quick prototyping tool where you can plug components and wires into holes to quickly connect them. Most labs will provide the necessary breadboard, but having one at your disposal is very handy.
DC Power Supply
Circuits need a power source and for classroom projects, 5-12V should be sufficient.
Every EE should keep their soldering tools handy. Whether it's building cables or modifying/repairing equipment, soldering tools get a lot of use on the workbench.
Soldering Iron -
Soldering starts with a good iron. Because they're main task is melting things, they need to have enough power; 40W should do the job. A higher wattage iron doesn't get hotter, it maintains its temperature better. Every time an iron melts solder, it cools down. A higher wattage iron will heat back up more quickly. There's not much that's more frustrating than blobs of solder are taking forever to melt because the iron isn't getting hot fast enough.
Helping Hand and Circuit Board Holder - You can always tell who likes to solder by the burn marks on their knees. We've all done it; holding a PCB or connector between our knees, with a soldering iron in one hand and a wire in the other. No matter how careful you are, you're going to hit your knee at some point! Growing a third arm is the best solution, but since science isn't quite there yet, save your knees with a Helping Hand setup or a circuit board holder.
Helping Hand -
Circuit board holder -
Wicks and Desoldering Pumps -
Sometimes things won't go right, and you'll find that you accidentally shorted two pins on an IC. Use a wick or a desoldering pump (or both) to remove that extra solder after you've heated it up.
Soldering Iron cleaner -
Soldering irons quickly get oxidized. To keep them clean, brass shavings are more effective than a wet sponge (although a wet sponge does make that cool sizzling sound).
Solder - Of course, don't forget the solder!
Testing is tricky with complex circuits. In order to make sure the different parts of the circuit are doing what you want them to, you need tools to measure the signal at each point.
Multimeters measure voltage, resistance, and current, the basic and most important measurements in electronics. Want to know if a component is broken? Measure across it; if the voltage drop is 0V, then it's broken.
Oscilloscope - Oscilloscopes measure electrical signals mapped against time, useful for viewing the outputs of capacitors and inductors, distortion and noise, and clocked digital signals.
PC USB Oscilloscope -
Logic Analyzer - If you're debugging a digital circuit, a logic analyzer is incredibly useful. Logic analyzers take signals from multiple points in the circuit and show you if they're 1 or 0. This shows you how every component is interacting, which makes chasing down a bug in a complex digital circuit much easier.
A big part of electrical engineering in the modern world is software. Most designs can be modeled and optimized before the first resistor even gets plugged into the breadboard.
PSpice - a SPICE (Simulation Program with Integrated Circuit Emphasis) circuit simulator that lets you design and simulate circuits built from a library of almost every component and IC available.
MATLAB - MATLAB (MATrix LABoratory) is used by many EEs to solve the complex math that arises from engineering problems. MATLAB simplifies matrix manipulations, graphing, creating algorithms, and with add-on toolkits, differential equations and linear algebra.
Simulink - Simulink is a GUI add-on for MATLAB from Mathworks, the maker of MATLAB. It lets you combine graphical and textual programming, making MATLAB easier to use.
LabVIEW - LabVIEW (Laboratory Virtual Instruments Engineering Workbench) from National Instruments is software that connects with measurement devices in order to control, retrieve, and analyze their data.
PI Expert - PI Expert from Power Integrations is a free tool that lets you design power supplies based on the specifications you need. It's a great learning tool in that you can switch parts in and out to see their effect on the circuit. It can even automatically optimize your design.
3D printers are on everyone's wishlist, but for EEs, they are especially useful. EEs are always in need of custom enclosures, mounts, risers, shims, and more. 3D printers can even print out entire sets of tools for the workbench. Because of advancing technology, prices have come down in recent years.
Microcontrollers and Single Board Computers
The integration of hardware and software has produced some of the most innovative devices out there. Microcontrollers and single board computers (SBC) are powerful learning tools to get you familiar with combining software and hardware.
Arduino is a microcontroller that functions as an interface for a variety of hardware, including sensors, robots, displays, and more. It comes with its own development environment where you can write code (C++) to control the hardware attached to it. You can find Arduinos everywhere, from classrooms to automated factory floors.
Raspberry Pi is entire computer packed onto a single board, capable of running any software compatible with the Linux operating system. Several manufacturers build "hats", small boards designed to interface with Pi that connect specifically to different types of hardware.
Last but not least, a good scientific calculator is mandatory for any EE student.
Mine was the legendary Hewlett Packard 28S (https://www.hpmuseum.org/hp28c.htm).
This $235 beast did everything, graphing, unit conversions, and it was the first Reverse Polish Lisp (RPL) (https://www.hpmuseum.org/rpl.htm) calculator.
However, the feature you really need as an EE student is solving matrices; any basic circuits class will have you solving hundreds. No one wants to solve matrices by hand! Luckily, these days, you don't need to pay $200 for a scientific calculator. Whether you're using iOS or Android, pop on your App Store and search for "scientific calculator" to pull up some low cost or even free alternatives to the monster HP.