Electrical Eng: Department


A visitor to the Department asked two students what they most liked and disliked about the Department. They said that when they needed help and knocked on a door they got the help they needed - that was good. What they had reservations about was the amount of work!

Imperial College is one of the leading colleges in engineering teaching and research on a world-scale. In 1989 six hundred engineering Professors voted the College "the leading EEC institution". The Higher Education Funding Council for England has classified the research of every engineering department as "excellent", giving them the grades of 5 and 5*. The College student population of 7421 (1996-97) is larger than that of many universities. The Electrical and Electronic Engineering Department is a major component of the College with 475 under-graduates and 143 postgraduates (1996-97). 41 full-time academic staff are supported by 30 research assistants and 32 technical support staff. The Department is housed in a purpose-designed twelve-storey building situated in the centre of the College campus.

Until 1971 the engineering departments of the College taught a common first year which gave electrical students the basics of mechanical and civil engineering. It was then recognised that many graduates from the department rarely made use of this broader knowledge and the time would be better spent improving their understanding of electronics. This tendency has continued and the under-graduate courses are now closely targeted within the electrical and electronics area.

Thus the aim of the Department is now to teach and to conduct research at the highest possible level in the electronics and electrical area. The pursuit of this double aim – teaching and research – means that students are taught by staff who are experts in their field and have a mind not only to present practice but who are looking to future developments and trying to equip students with the basic understanding that will serve them well in their working lives. In this field it is no longer possible to teach students all they will need to know for the next forty years – much of it has not been invented yet! The best that can be done is to develop minds that are open to new ideas and will keep abreast of future developments.

The Department takes its teaching very seriously – it was awarded full marks by the Higher Education Funding Council in 1997. There is an extensive tutorial programme which provides an hour of small group teaching to support every two lectures in the first two years. In addition each student has a personal tutor who they see every two weeks with two other students. The tutor is there to help with any questions not answered elsewhere and watches the progress of the student. Students contribute to the courses through student representatives elected from each year. The 'Reps' regularly meet with academic staff to put forward suggestions and discuss improvements.

In addition to technical matters the Department has a long-standing policy towards skills and managerial abilities that all engineers require. Each student gets practice in speaking in public, in writing up technical work and in group activity with other students. The Management School provides courses in business studies so as to give a firm understanding of the economic background against which engineering is practised. In addition students can develop non-technical interests in courses provided by the Humanities Department and study another language.

Students have about twenty-five hours a week contact-time in the Department. In addition they need to read, study lecture notes, do examples and write laboratory reports. How long this takes depends on ability, but fifteen to twenty hours of private study a week is a fair estimate.

Project work plays an important part in each year of the course, culminating in a personal project.

The Department aims to provide students with resources as close as possible to those used by professional engineers. It has excellent computing facilities which include over 100 networked personal computers and SUN workstations available for student use with full internet access. Many of these systems are on open access and students are encouraged to explore and utilise the resources that they provide. From their first year in the Department, students use a professional Mentor Graphics suite of software for the design and simulation of electronic circuits; in later years they use the same software to design integrated circuits which are then fabricated. In addition to the well-equipped laboratories for general use which include support for a range of microprocessors and programmable logic devices, there are specialist teaching laboratories devoted to optics, telecommunications, control engineering and signal processing. For their final year projects, a number of students take the opportunity to work with the Department's research teams, thus gaining access to the advanced facilities of the research laboratories which include clean rooms for the fabrication of semiconductor devices.