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Understanding Modern Electronics

Delve into the fascinating world of electrons and see how mankind has harnessed their power to create devices that only decades ago seemed like science fiction.
Understanding Modern Electronics is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 165.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding. I really enjoyed this course. I had studied microelectronics fabrication fundamentals in the past, but never really knew how they are used to create electronic devices from simple circuits to computers. Finally, now I know. The professor gives clear lectures, easy to understand, and homework to affirm and understand how these circuits work.
Date published: 2024-04-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An awesome introduction to flip flop What a great introduction to flip flops, starting bistable inverter and gradually moving in complexity, culminating in J-K, and then extending to shift registers, parallel to serial and serial to parallel conversions. Very methodical. I will go back to these few units when I need to refresh my memory on them. By the way, I took a digital electronics course 22 years ago.
Date published: 2024-04-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good course but be prepared to work. This is not your average Great Course since it covers a lot of electronics in a rather fast paced manner. If you haven't studied circuits before, or it's been a while, you may have to pause the video frequently to think about what is being presented, and/or refer to YouTube videos to provide reinforcement and background. Simulating each of the class circuits in CircuitLab was fun and educational. You can learn a lot from this course but be prepared to work hard and to supplement the lectures with a good text or online sources.
Date published: 2024-01-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from “Great and Elegant” … …is how Wolfson describes a diode solution for crossover distortion in a power amplifier circuit (Lecture 9 = L9). It could also describe this course. TEACHING METHOD: Wolfson's tells us that electronics is about “one circuit controlling another". His step-by-step method seamlessly integrates principles and applications. After discussing component design and circuitry diagrams, he performs on camera experiments with the actual components. As your knowledge grows, circuits step-by-step become more complex, yet his pace remains marvelously balanced. At the end of each lecture his “Challenge” requires students to analyze and/or build “hands on” circuitry solutions. Anyone considering an electronics/electrical engineering career (or any dedicated hobbyist) should complete each the Challenges. L2 - L7 explore basic concepts. L8 –L11 cover the internal circuitry of basic amplifiers and a few clever applications. Next is the most important L12 where, with basic algebra and a few realistic assumptions, he makes clear why electronic negative feedback circuits allow remarkable versatility in operational amplifiers (difference amplifier circuits). Once he has proven to you the two Op-amp rules: (1. No current flows into op-amp inputs! 2. With negative feedback [the signal input voltage = the voltage to ground) you will counter-intuitively be able to predict the gain of an op amp from the ratio of the feedback and signal input resistors, L13 - L15 discuss quite a blizzard of the clever applications of such circuitry making clear WHY everyday electronic devices work. L16 shifts to Boolean logic and L17 illustrates the principles of AND, OR, NOT circuits with marvelously simple primitive switch/lamp circuits. These prepare one for the next 6 lectures in which the electronics of computer circuits are discussed and ending with designs for shifts between analog and digital inputs/outputs. Shifting to computer components (L24) shows their WORRIES: 1.) Heat dissipation [this is CHIP MAKER'S WORRY] and 2.) The speed of electrons demands that chip components shrink in size as computers become more powerful. This is YOUR WORRY because it helps computer purchases. Example: an organization’s traveling director asked me to find a good computer price point for their start up. Given that FASTER chips mean less weight, she was willing to buy a more expensive laptop with MUCH more computational power than she'd ever need. Yet it was so light that she could even work on it while standing. For the board members, much less powerful but heavier laptops were selected because they “parked theirs”. Wolfson’s picture of a "single electron transistor" is illustrative of weight reductions possible. Wolfson also emphasizes (L24) that one should "Buy, Don't Build" electronic circuits. Yes, the course is invaluable to help you know what and how to input/output these chips. But building them silly at a time (2014) when a 7476 dual JK flip-flop sold for 40 cents! When predicting the ultimate limitation of component shrinkage, Wolfson first notes that the electron is best viewed as a point without dimensions (see also the Great Course Particle Physics by Pollock). Yet the Compton wavelength (the electron size as electromagnetic radiation scatters off it appears to be of x-ray wavelength size) needs to be considered. He may have been a bit off with his 2014 prediction that self-driving cars would be available to the public by 2020 (as I write, serious doubts remain). He ends with comments on the comparison of the cost of an Amtel micro-controller ($3 in 2014) vs. $300 for a microprocessor chip. For those who learn by doing, he recommends an Arduino micro-controller mounted on a circuit board because of its simple code and accessible inputs/outputs. COMMENTS: Wolfson gives peeks into the methods and challenges of Electrical Engineering, and it becomes easy to admire that profession. The course visuals are some of the best in the Great Courses. The 2014 Guidebook is marvelously illustrated with the important circuits/diagrams (and no cutesy, space-wasting photos that can plague newer courses).
Date published: 2023-11-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course I purchased this course to review electrical topics that I had taken in college some years ago. Found it to be very beneficial and educational. Professor Richard Wolfson is extremely knowledgeable in the field and does an excellent job of teaching the subject matter. So much so I went out and purchased his book on relativity (i.e., Simply Einstein: Relativity Demystified).
Date published: 2023-05-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Modern Electronics Turbo Charged Professor Richard Wolfson is indeed a learned and an enthused academic. There is absolutely no doubt that he is on top of his subject and that his delivery of the course content evidences the same. That is my conclusion after reaching the mid point of lecture seven at which point I abandoned any further listening. What is missing, both from The Great Courses' write up of the course and the course itself, is that the course is a long way beyond being designed for someone who has no prior knowledge of electronics or perhaps senior high school physics. The pace of delivery of new information, scientific terms, and the "language of electronics", is, in my opinion, much beyond the capacity of even a well educated non-technically orientated individual to absorb who has invested in the course with a mindset of being an enthused life long learner. I clearly appreciate that the course will have great merit for someone who is well versed in the underlying subject matter at perhaps a grade 12 or first year undergraduate level but for someone who is looking for an introduction at an elementary level this course is simply not appropriate. In terms of course content and Dr Wolfson's talent and knowledge I give the course five stars. As a course suitable for enthusiastic beginners with no prior knowledge of the subject master I give the course one star and that is being generous. That all said I still have Dr Wolfson's 2004 course " Physics in Your Life" waiting to go. In the completely satisfied column is Dr Wolfson's sixty lecture course, 1280, "Physics and Our Universe; How It All Works". That course was beyond five stars in all respects.
Date published: 2023-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Deepened understanding in a practical course This is an excellent course which is surprisingly practical for a video class, assuming you follow his advice and use a circuit simulator to do the projects at the end of each lecture. Through this class, a bunch of accumulated factoids about electricity and electronics have congealed into understanding. For example, prior to taking this course I had a fuzzy understanding of the word 'transistor.' I KNEW that transistors made computing possible, but I could never have explained exactly why (except to say that it was something with ones-and-zeroes). If someone had asked me, I probably would have ended up describing a switch. After taking this class, I could explain two different architectures (CMOS and TTL) using transistors to create circuits that perform logical operations. From there, I could explain how you get at least to computers that can add, subtract, divide and multiply. I could design a sort of lousy amplifier using bipolar junction transistors. With a straight face, I could tell you why transistors must be biased. This class won't make you an electrical engineer, but after taking it you might be able to impress one. More importantly, you might understand why your old USB cable doesn't work. Note: the circuit simulators he recommends now charge a subscription fee. There are a few free circuit simulators that are excellent for this course. I recommend Falstad.
Date published: 2022-11-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Distance Learning at its best A very personable, clear presenter with a good delivery and excellent pace. The course booklet really is excellent too.
Date published: 2022-06-13
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Electronic devices are fundamental to our global economy, improve our lives immeasurably, and underlie virtually every aspect of modern life. Yet very few of us have any idea of how electronic devices actually work. In fact, these increasingly complex devices operate on a few basic principles that are both fascinating and easy to understand. Now, in 24 clear and accessible lectures, award-winning Professor of Physics Richard Wolfson of Middlebury College provides a working explanation of the principles that govern electronic circuits, then shows these principles in action with devices you use every day. By leaving much of the rigorous mathematics to the textbooks, your education in modern electronics will take a practical approach suitable for the aspiring engineer, the enthusiastic tinkerer, or the curious intellectual. Understanding Modern Electronics will demystify the behavior and inner circuitry of electronic devices and inspire you to see technology in a whole new light.


Richard Wolfson

Physics explains the workings of the universe at the deepest level, the everyday natural phenomena that are all around us, and the technologies that enable modern society. It's an essential liberal art.


Middlebury College

Dr. Richard Wolfson is the Benjamin F. Wissler Professor of Physics at Middlebury College, where he also teaches Climate Change in Middlebury's Environmental Studies Program. He completed his undergraduate work at MIT and Swarthmore College, graduating from Swarthmore with a double major in Physics and Philosophy. He holds a master's degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. in Physics from Dartmouth.

Professor Wolfson's published work encompasses diverse fields such as medical physics, plasma physics, solar energy engineering, electronic circuit design, observational astronomy, theoretical astrophysics, nuclear issues, and climate change. His current research involves the eruptive behavior of the sun's outer atmosphere, or corona, as well as terrestrial climate change and the sun-Earth connection.

Professor Wolfson is the author of several books, including the college textbooks Physics for Scientists and Engineers, Essential University Physics,and Energy, Environment, and Climate. He is also an interpreter of science for the nonspecialist, a contributor to Scientific American, and author of the books Nuclear Choices: A Citizen's Guide to Nuclear Technology and Simply Einstein: Relativity Demystified.

By This Professor

Physics and Our Universe
Understanding Modern Electronics
Einstein's Relativity and the Quantum Revolution: Modern Physics for Non-Scientists, 2nd Edition
Understanding Modern Electronics


Electricity and Electronics

01: Electricity and Electronics

What is the difference between electricity and electronics? Begin your study of modern electronics by examining this distinction, and observe how electronics use the basic properties of electric circuits in a more sophisticated way. Witness firsthand how resistance is described with Ohm's law, and learn how to measure electric power.

35 min
Circuits and Symbols

02: Circuits and Symbols

Meet the battery! This lecture marks your introduction to circuit diagrams, displaying the interconnected assemblages of electronic components that make a circuit function. Learn how to decipher these drawings, and see how components assembled in series or in parallel may interact differently depending on their configuration.

33 min
Instruments and Measurement

03: Instruments and Measurement

As you grow familiar with physical properties of electric circuits, become acquainted with the instruments used to measure these quantities: voltmeters, ammeters, ohmmeters, multimeters, and the oscilloscope. See how each of these instruments interacts with a circuit to test circuit behavior or measure quantities that may vary over time.

48 min
AC versus DC

04: AC versus DC

Examine the nuances of alternating and direct currents, see how transformers use electromagnetic induction to transform voltage levels in AC circuits, and observe the role of diodes and capacitors in regulating current. See how the DC power supplies that charge our cell phones are constructed so that they convert alternating to direct current.

38 min
Up the Treble, Down the Bass!

05: Up the Treble, Down the Bass!

From familiar audio equalizers we use to crank the bass or reduce hiss, to cell phone towers that need to separate calls coming in on adjacent channels, filtering electronic signals is often essential. Dive further into the critical role that capacitors play in electronic filters.

34 min
Semiconductors-The Miracle Material

06: Semiconductors-The Miracle Material

Semiconductors make possible the transistors at the heart of electronics, including integrated circuits and computers. Learn how the atomic configuration of semiconductors makes them unique, and how engineers adjust their properties to make two types of semiconductors-P and N. Witness the critical role that PN-junctions play in semiconductor devices.

36 min
Transistors and How They Work

07: Transistors and How They Work

Transistors in all forms fundamentally do the same thing: they allow one electronic circuit to control another. Review the concept of electronic control, and study field effect transistors (FETs) as well as bipolar junction transistors (BJTs). See how the bipolar junction transistor can be used as a simple switch.

35 min
Transistors as Amplifiers

08: Transistors as Amplifiers

Discover how transistors can be used to increase voltage, current, or power of an electronic signal while faithfully reproducing the signal's time variation. See how biasing and load-line analysis play key roles in amplifiers, and help prevent distortion. Learn to design a simple one-transistor audio amplifier that increases the voltage of audio-frequency signals.

37 min
Building an Audio Amplifier

09: Building an Audio Amplifier

Put your knowledge to use by building a complete audio amplifier. First, create a two-stage amplifier, then add capacitors to increase the amplification, or gain. Add a power output stage to drive a loudspeaker. Finally, add a volume control. In addition, learn how biasing with diodes can eliminate a subtle form of distortion.

35 min
The Ideal Amplifier

10: The Ideal Amplifier

Learn why large gain-infinite gain, in fact-as well as low output resistance and high input resistance are characteristics of the ideal amplifier. See how an integrated-circuit operational amplifier, or "op-amp," puts all these things together and also how the op-amp can be used as a simple comparator.

38 min
Feedback Magic

11: Feedback Magic

Define what "feedback" means in electronics, and how it can be used in a circuit. Learn how negative feedback utilizes communication between the output and input of an amplifier, and how operational amplifiers use this phenomenon to create thought-controlled robotic arms, intelligent light bulbs, and optical tracking systems.

33 min
Electronic Feedback

12: Electronic Feedback

Understand the math behind two basic rules that allow op-amps to leverage the magic of negative feedback: no current flows into op-amp inputs, and with negative feedback, V+ = V -. See how these rules allow op-amps to tame near-infinite gain in a circuit down to the exact amplification you want.

36 min
Amplifier Circuits Using Op-Amps

13: Amplifier Circuits Using Op-Amps

Now that the versatility of negative feedback has been demonstrated, adjust the strength of negative feedback in op-amp circuits to build amplifiers with whatever gain you choose. Create an amplifier that sums two or more inputs, see a circuit that converts current to voltage, and explore the design and operation of an op-amp-based light meter.

36 min
More Fun with Op-Amps

14: More Fun with Op-Amps

Explore peak detectors that "remember" the maximum voltage reached, as well as Schmitt triggers whose output retain their value until the input changes sufficiently to "trigger" a change in the output. Use these concepts to design a practical circuit: an alarm to warn if your freezer's temperature has been above freezing.

35 min
Using Op-Amps with Capacitors

15: Using Op-Amps with Capacitors

By introducing capacitors to op-amp circuits, you will see how feedback capacitors can be used to introduce time-dependent behavior such as gradual voltage increases, and to generate useful waveforms. Learn in the process how op-amp circuits with capacitors can perform the mathematical operation called integration.

36 min
Digital Versus Analog

16: Digital Versus Analog

Explore the difference between the analog and digital realms. Learn how the two states "0" and "1" can be used to represent numbers or textual information. Enter the digital age with binary numbers and operations that are the basis of computer logic, and discover logic gates and their truth tables for common logical operators.

37 min
Electronics Goes Digital

17: Electronics Goes Digital

See how distinctly different electrical circuits can implement basic logic operations, and how simple logic gates come together to form complex logic circuits, ultimately including computers. Return to transistors to see how both BJTs and MOSFETs are used to implement logic gates, the latter in an arrangement called Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS).

40 min
Flip-Flop Circuits

18: Flip-Flop Circuits

By combining logic gates and positive feedback, obtain circuits with two stable states. These "flip-flop" circuits "remember" their current states until they are forced into the opposite state. Learn the inner workings of several types of flip-flops as they lay the foundations for memory circuits.

34 min
Shift and Divide-Your USB and Your Watch

19: Shift and Divide-Your USB and Your Watch

Learn how electronic devices "talk" to each other by using flip-flops to send computer "words" one bit at a time, and observe how recipient devices reassemble incoming bits using serial-to-parallel conversions. See how Universal Serial Bus (USB) connections transmit communications between devices, and how the T flip-flop is utilized as a frequency divider in quartz watches.

38 min
Digital Memory

20: Digital Memory

Examine the circuits that enable your devices to "remember" everything from contact information to your browsing history to the keystrokes you type on your computer. Compare random-access memory versus sequential memory as well as volatile and non-volatile memory.

38 min
Digital Counters

21: Digital Counters

Flip-flops can be connected together to create counting circuits. Examine the circuitry behind 2-bit, n-bit, and decade counters, then see how the interruption of a light beam can be used in conjunction with such a circuit to keep count of people walking by or products moving along an assembly line.

39 min
Digital to Analog

22: Digital to Analog

Because we live in an analog world-sound, time, temperature, speed, and light are all analog phenomena-it's important to be able to convert outputs of digital circuits into analog signals that we can perceive. Discover two digital-to-analog converters (DACs): weighted-resistor DACs, and the delta-sigma DACs that provide high-resolution audio for our smartphones and mp3 players.

36 min
Analog to Digital

23: Analog to Digital

Observe how circuit designers have formulated a wide array of schemes for converting analog signals to digitally encoded information. See how flash converters, integrating converters, and feedback converters use very different methods to accomplish the same goal, and weigh the situational costs and benefits of each.

39 min
Your Future in Electronics

24: Your Future in Electronics

With some final tips, an introduction to the microcontroller, and a demonstration of an amazing circuit aimed at improving the efficiency of photovoltaic panels, Professor Wolfson leaves you with an enhanced appreciation for the complexity of essential modern electronics. You are now well equipped to embark on your own journey through the fascinating world of electronics!

35 min