Electronics Engineering – The Layers Of Abstraction
Any subject you learn, you first start with the fundamentals of the subject and later use them to make bigger concepts-a cluster of fundamentals. The concepts grow in size until you completely master the subject. Any subject can hence be divided into a set of layers of abstraction.
The most basic concepts form the lowest layers of abstraction and the resulting devices form the higher layers of abstraction. The lower levels require the maximum effort and time while the higher levels are easy-depending only upon how well you understand the lower ones.
Electronics Engineering begins with Basic Physics all the way to the Microprocessor. Like any other subject, it can be summarized and over-viewed using such a set of abstraction layers.
Level 1 – The Physics/The Electron
Electronics emerges from the basics of electricity-the flow of electrons & the fact that charge exists on the electron. We then take a look at the atomic view-the nature of the atom. This includes the study of energy levels and energy radiation from the atom. Once we know that elements can conduct-we can make use of the knowledge. As you may notice-this abstraction layer can further be divided into sub-levels(the electron, the atom & conducting elements)
Level 2 – The Semiconductor/The Holes
Once we start noticing and studying the various elements-we come across the “gifted” elements of Group 4. The gift they have is a unique energy gap-one that lies between the conductors & the insulators. They appear harmless at 0K-but do wonders under room temperature or when doped with another element from the 3rd or the 5th group. This classifies the semiconductors as Extrinsic & Intrinsic.
Level 3-The P-N Junction/The Diode/Rectifiers
Once we learn about doping & the extrinsic semiconductors, we make use of the fact. The p-n Junction results. Here, we introduce a concept called “recombination”. We expand the concepts of electricity to incorporate the conduction by holes-which are considered as physical positive charges. We play around with the junction-we bias it with an external voltage. It allows current only through a particular direct-it has directionality!
The device resulting from the p-n junction is the Diode. It shows certain characteristics-that of conduction with directionality-and that of breakdown when reverse biased. There are a number of types of diodes-with slight variations in structure-but a greater variation in functionality. The diode emerges as a rectifier with many other applications including clipping & clamping & peak detection.
Level 4-The Transistor/Amplifiers/Filters
Putting two diodes back to back give us the transistor. A device used for amplification & switching. It can be seen as a combination of two p-n junctions. This device has the directionality-but in addition -has gain. It is hence, an active device.
Consider the layers of abstraction as layers of sand piled over each other. You are still aware of the deeper & more fundamental layers-but you are now looking at the higher ones. Here, we look at the transistor and how it performs amplification/switching but we do not consider how doping results in p & n type semiconductors-that is the essence of abstraction.
Level 5-The Logic Gates
The transistors-alone-or combined with the diode and other passive devices lead to what are called-the logic families. They are used to realize the logic gates-devices which perform simple operations on digital signals. Amongst the logic gates-the NAND and NOR are the universal gates & form the basis of most of the further levels of abstraction.
Level 6-Digital Circuits/Combinational & Sequential Circuits
Logic gates are then combined to form circuits that establish certain logic functions-they are called the combinational circuits. These include multiplexers, demultiplex, encoders, decoders and all the logic circuits you can think of that do not use a circular logic path(no feedback).
The sequential circuits are combinational circuits with storage. They add a state to the combinational circuit-and they store it. They use feedback to store this state. The basic sequential device is a flip-flop and other devices include counters and shift registers.
Level 7-The Microprocessor/CPU/Integrated Circuits/Micro Chip
The Digital Circuits allow us to build Integrated Circuits. Our building blocks still being the NAND & NOR gates. We now have functionality (combinational circuits) and storage(sequential circuit)-and those are the two things a CPU does. So, we now have the CPU. We may further have all the CPU functionality on a single chip-called the Microprocessor. The digital circuits also make way for Computer Architecture which builds the Operating System-The Computer is complete. All electronic devices we see and use everyday use a microprocessor CPU-the highest level of Electronics Abstraction.