The BRADLEY DEPARTMENT of ELECTRICAL and COMPUTER ENGINEERING

New ECE majors | ECE | Virginia Tech

ECE NEWS

New ECE majors

Three students bending over a quodrotator drone, adjusting an element..
Juan Alfaro (left) and Wilbert Chan, both CPE seniors, adjust a drone for their Major Design Experience project with industry sponsor NAVAIR.

Controls, Robotics & Autonomy

Controls, robotics and autonomy goes above and beyond robots—it seeks new ways to interact with the world, interpret information, regulate processes, and teach systems how to make autonomous decisions.

Engineers in this field work on aerial vehicles, vehicular networks, deep learning in robotics, autonomous decision making, autonomous teams and swarms, human-robot interaction, and other projects. Machine learning, optimization, embedded systems, and signals and systems are all important for this field.

Typical career paths include control/automation engineers and robotics engineers. Advanced degrees are common for many robotics/autonomy startups and specific thrusts in larger corporations.

Electrical Engineering

EE common courses, plus:

  • ECE 2574 Introduction to Data Structures and Algorithms
  • ECE 3704 Continuous and Discrete System Theory
  • ECE 3714 Introduction to Control Systems
  • MATH 3144 Linear Algebra I or MATH 4144 Linear Algebra II
  • 5 Controls, Robotics & Autonomy Electives

Computer Engineering

CPE common courses, plus:

  • ECE 3714 Introduction to Control Systems
  • ECE 4524 Artificial Intelligence and Engineering Applications
  • ECE 4580 Digital Image Processing
  • ECE 4704 Principles of Robotic Systems
  • 4 Controls, Robotics, & Autonomy Electives

Machine Learning

Machine learning is the art of teaching computer systems how to learn on their own. Machine learning techniques are being rapidly integrated into a growing number of fields, including self-driving cars, speech and visual recognition, effective web search, marketing, and understanding of the human genome.

Career opportunities in machine learning include software engineers, data scientists, and machine learning or computer vision engineers.

Computer Engineering

CPE common courses, plus:

  • ECE 4424 Machine Learning
  • ECE 4524 Artificial Intelligence and Engineering Applications
  • ECE 4525 Video Game Design and Engineering or ECE 4580 Digital Image Processing
  • ECE 4554 Introduction to Computer Vision
  • 4 Machine Learning Electives

Software Systems

An image of a student using GameChangineer.

Outreach

GameChangineer, a video game design platform designed by ECE's Michael Hsiao, addresses the similarities between language and programming, and teaches students core skills that are common to both. Hsiao has been working with outreach and college aspiration programs to incorporate computer science and coding into the Virginia's Standards of Learning curriculum. He has piloted GameChangineer in local school districts.

Software systems engineers write complex software systems of all sizes for applications including machine learning, cyber physical systems, and infrastructure software.

This means they need to be confident and comfortable with hardware/software interactions and equipped with a ready knowledge of how hardware features can be exploited for designing and implementing software. Career possibilities include working as software engineers or architects, or in other jobs with a large programming component.

Computer Engineering

CPE common courses, plus:

  • ECE 2524 Introduction to UNIX for Engineers
  • ECE 4524 Artificial Intelligence and Engineering Applications
  • CS 3214 Computer Systems
  • CS 4304 Compiler Design and Implementation
  • 4 Software Systems Electives

Chip-Scale Integration

Chips are ubiquitous in engineering applications, including communications, networking, automotive, industrial control, robotics, medical instrumentation, smart grid, smart home, and the Internet of Things. Chip-scale integration harnesses the advances in integrated digital and analog electronics to add even greater functionality, improve performance, minimize power consumption, and expand applications.

Many chip-scale integration graduates become chip designers, working for small and large companies on chips that contain millions to billions of transistors and have architectures as complex as cities. Others become tool designers that automate, verify, and test the design and manufacturing of these chips. There are also many research opportunities in this fast-changing and impactful field.

Computer Engineering

CPE common courses, plus:

A student works on a microcontroller.
Brian Mathis, a senior EE, works with a microcontroller and rovers for ECE 4534, Embedded System Design.

Micro/Nanosystems

Engineers who specialize in micro and nano systems work with electronics and circuits at an extremely small scale. To complicate matters, materials can change their characteristics and behaviors at the nano-scale. Engineers in this field are involved in applications ranging from creating more efficient solar cells to microprocessors that exceed the capabilities of traditional silicon-based processors. They are designing and building complete systems on a chip to detect and classify gas and toxins, advance cancer research, and other applications.

Micro/nanosystem engineers rely on a strong background in electronics and are well versed in the use of semiconductor materials.

Graduates in this major will be able to build careers in development and design with industry and government organizations—from multinational firms to small startups.

Electrical Engineering

EE common courses plus:

  • ECE 3204 Analog Electronics
  • ECE 3214 Semiconductor Device Fundamentals
  • ECE 3274 Electric Circuits Laboratory II
  • ECE 3614 Introduction to Communication Systems
  • 5 Micro/Nanosystems Electives

Photonics

Two students bend over a blue cube with light coming out of the side.
Cathrine Conner (right), a sophomore EE, works with graduate student Seied Ali Safiabadi Taliin in the photonics lab to set up an experiment for an undergraduate course.

Photonics involves the science of generation, transmission, manipulation, and detection of light, as well as the application of that light for communication, imaging, sensing, and other technologies.

LEDs and lasers, display technologies like LCDs, optical communication devices like optical fibers, medical imaging, and machine vision systems and processes all use photonics technologies. Photonics are also critical in optical computing and communications. Skills needed for the field include electromagnetics, photonics, and optoelectronics.

There are many career opportunities in photonics, including optical engineers and researchers in academic and government research agencies.

Electrical Engineering

EE common courses, plus:


Space Systems

Ellen Robertson, wearing a blue bunny suit and protective gloves, adjusts a piece of technology in a reflective metal chamber.
Graduate student Ellen Robertson tests systems in a vacuum chamber.

Space systems engineers design, build, and test systems to withstand harsh and uncertain conditions of space and the near-Earth environment. This includes flight computers, power systems, communications, attitude determination and control, and instrumentation.

Systems engineering tasks may include integration and testing of all these systems into the spacecraft bus, and environmental testing to verify that the systems can survive the stresses of launch and the radiation environment of space.

There are career opportunities at large and small companies, government facilities and research labs, and universities with space science programs.

Electrical Engineering

EE common courses, plus:

  • ECE 3104 Introduction to Space Systems and Technologies
  • ECE 3106 Electromagnetic Fields
  • ECE 3154 Space Systems Laboratory
  • ECE 3614 Introduction to Communication Systems
  • 5 Space Systems Electives
An image of the NASA sounding rocket taking off.

In August 2017, the Virginia Tech RockSat-X team launched a payload on a NASA sounding rocket to demonstrate the commercial viability of software-defined radios in space.

It was a "massive success," said Hume Center researcher Zach Leffke, who is the Virginia Tech Ground Station (VTGS) principal investigator and an ECE alumnus. The team detected thousands of transmitted signal packets from the VTGS in Blacksburg and from a mobile ground station parked at the launch site.

The payload contained a number of sensors connected to a microcontroller that monitored attitude, g-loading, temperature, pressure, and more, all of which worked flawlessly, said Leffke. "We could see that in real time in the downlinked data, so it was a major success for the electrical team."

(Photo credit: NASA)


Radio Frequency & Microwave

Radio frequency (RF) and microwave engineering focuses on the devices and systems that operate in the 300 kHz to 300 GHz range, and the signals those devices transmit and receive. Such devices are fundamental to the rapidly expanding use of wireless technologies.

Applications include communications, broadcasting, radar, navigation, RFID, remote sensing and astronomy, medical imaging, and electromagnetic compatibility. Circuits, electromagnetics, communications, and signal processing are all important skills in this field.

Career opportunities include design, analysis, and testing of RF circuits, antennas, radio wave communications links, and instruments for RF test, measurement, and metrology. Employers include organizations that develop RF components, receivers and transmitters, wireless communications systems, and RF instruments in industry, government, and research.

Electrical Engineering

EE common courses, plus:

  • ECE 3106 Electromagnetic Fields
  • ECE 3204 Analog Electronics
  • ECE 3274 Electric Circuits Laboratory II
  • ECE 3614 Introduction to Communication Systems
  • 5 RF & Microwave Electives

Communications & Networking

An image of students in the Imagination program working on a Raspberry Pi.

Outreach

In Fall 2017, rising seventh- and eighth-grade students from all over the commonwealth visited Virginia Tech to get a sense of what it means to be an engineer. This program is sponsored by the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity (CEED), which provides encouragement and support to engineering students, focusing on the under-represented population. The students shown here are working with a Raspberry Pi.

CEED Imagination

(Photo credit: VPS Studios)

Wireless communications are now enmeshed in almost every aspect of modern life and the importance of wireless communications will only grow. The communications and networking field builds on a strong background in signal processing and communications. These areas overlap with other ECE specializations, which allows students to focus on a specific aspect of communications and networking, for example software-defined radio, or spectrum sharing issues.

Engineers who specialize in communications and networking work at companies of all sizes—from startups to large defense contractors. Others conduct fundamental research at universities and research institutions.

Electrical Engineering

EE common courses, plus:

  • ECE 3704 Continuous and Discrete System Theory
  • ECE 3614 Introduction to Communication Systems
  • ECE 4614 Telecommunication Networks
  • ECE 4624 Digital Signal Processing and Filter Design
  • ECE 4664 Analog and Digital Communications Laboratory
  • ECE 4634 Digital Communications
  • 3 Communications & Networking Electives

An image of students in the Imagination program working on a Raspberry Pi.

Members of the Virginia Tech Cybersecurity Club placed second in the 2018 Virginia Cyber Cup Capture the Flag competition.

In 2017, the Virginia Tech team placed first, and was awarded the first Virginia Cyber Cup by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. ECE undergraduates Mark Carman, Tom Conroy, Riley Cooper, Drew Dudash, and Andrew Pham are among the team members.

From left to right: Virginia Secretary of Technology Karen Jackson, Andrew Pham, Samuel Hentschel, Hithesh Peddamekala, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Josiah Pierce, and Zachary Burch with the Cyber Cup trophy in 2017.

(Photo credit: Virginia Tech News)


Networking & Cybersecurity

Networking and cybersecurity is the backbone of today's IT industry, which is in turn a main driving force for economic growth. There is a serious shortage of graduates with these skills.

Computer engineers in this field draw on hardware and software skills to ensure the efficient and safe transmission of data and energy through networks such as wireless cellular and the power grid. State-of-the-art work in the field includes network and information security, cryptography, social networks, reliability, capacity, energy efficiency, and resilience.

Large and small companies, government agencies, universities, and research institutions seek cybersecurity graduates.

Computer Engineering

CPE common courses, plus:

  • CS 4264 Principles of Computer Security
  • ECE 4564 Network Application Design
  • ECE 4560 Computer and Network Security Fundamentals
  • ECE 4614 Telecommunication Networks
  • 4 Networking & Cybersecurity Electives

Energy & Power Electronics Systems

Muhammad Rosley peers into a section of a full wall of electronics paneling.
Muhammad Syafiq Rosley, a senior EE, works on an independent project in the Power Systems Research Laboratory.

Energy and power electronics systems engineers maintain stability in today's electrical power infrastructure while preparing for, designing, and building smart grids of the future. Modeling, analysis, and design of power systems components and power electronics systems are important skills for this field. Graduates can choose careers with large-scale energy transmission and distribution, or device-scale power conditioning. With developments in the smart grid, increased use of electric cars, energy storage, smart buildings, and alternative energy sources, career paths in power transmission and distribution include everything from traditional control and protection roles in electric utilities, to new jobs in green engineering and alternative energy startups. Jobs at the device scale are typically in startup power electronics firms or on development teams at large firms.

Electrical Engineering

EE common courses, plus:

  • ECE 3204 Analog Electronics
  • ECE 3304 Introduction to Power Systems
  • ECE 3354 Electric Power Engineering Laboratory
  • ECE 3704 Continuous and Discrete System Theory
  • ECE 4224 Power Electronics
  • ECE 4334 Power System Analysis and Control
  • 4 Energy & Power Electronics Electives
An image of the BOLT III electric motorcycle.

Virginia Tech's Battery Operated Land Transportation (BOLT) motorcycle team placed second overall in the eSupersport class in the team's first American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association race at the New Jersey Motorsports Park. The BOLT team is currently modifying their motorcycle, BOLT III, to reduce its weight and improve overall performance characteristics. They are also working on the chassis for the next iteration—BOLT IV.

(Photo credit: Virginia Tech BOLT team)


General Electrical Engineering

Two graduate students work on an electronic circuit board full of colorful wires.
Husam Elsheikh (right) and Mark Dionisio, both senior EEs, test their levitation project for ECE 4206, an electronic circuit design course.

The imagination of electrical engineers has transformed the world. EEs develop the tools and techniques to sense, measure, convert, transmit, control, and receive energy and intelligence. In doing this, EEs work on projects as small as mosquito-sized robots, to controlling massive, million-mile structures, such as the nation's power grid.

EEs can work in product development, product testing, system management, sales, and consulting in industries including amusements, wireless communication, consumer electronics, power, transportation, manufacturing, automotive, chemical, pharmaceutical, defense, and more.

Common ECE Courses for all EEs

Initial 7-course ECE common core, plus:

  • ECE 3004 AC Circuit Analysis
  • ECE 3074 AC Circuit Analysis Laboratory
  • ECE 3105 Electromagnetic Fields
  • ECE 4805 & ECE 4806 Senior Design Project
  • Requirements such as Mathematics, Physics, English, Statistics, and Engineering Economy

For a general EE degree, students also take

  • ECE 3106 Electromagnetic Fields
  • ECE 3204 Analog Electronics
  • ECE 3274 Electronic Circuits Laboratory II
  • ECE 3304 Introduction to Power Systems
  • ECE 3354 Electric Power Engineering Laboratory
  • ECE 3614 Introduction to Communication Systems
  • ECE 3704 Continuous and Discrete System Theory
  • 3 EE Technical Electives

General Computer Engineering

Two students look at something on a computer monitor while the third is grabbing a small, square robot off the shelf behind them.
CPE juniors Congyi Guan (left), Olivia Ritz, and Kevin Kawecki (right) are modeling autonomous transportation research on ground robots.

Computer engineers embed computers in other machines and systems, build networks to transfer data, and develop ways to make computers faster, smaller, and more capable. They are making computers more mobile, and incorporating computers into fabrics, clothes, and building materials.

Computer engineers have the option of moving into hardware or software positions, or blending the two. Industries hiring computer engineers include financial services, computer manufacturers, chemical companies, defense contractors, consulting, transportation, manufacturing, and consumer goods. Computer engineers are equally successful in large multinational firms and small startups.

Common ECE Courses for all CPEs

Initial 7-course ECE common core, plus:

  • ECE 2500 Computer Organization and Architecture
  • ECE 2574 Introduction to Data Structures and Algorithms
  • ECE 3574 Applied Software Design
  • ECE 4534 Embedded System Design (Major Design Experience)
  • Requirements such as Mathematics, Physics, English, Statistics, and Engineering Economy

For a general CPE degree, students also take

  • ECE 2524 Introduction to UNIX for Engineers
  • ECE 3544 Digital Design I
  • 2 CPE Design Technical Electives
  • 4 CPE Technical Electives