The difference between electrical and electronics: IMPORTANT distinction

You might wonder what the difference is between electrical and electronics. Both terms sound quite similar. Electrical mainly focuses on using electricity to do mechanical work (such as pumping up water). Electronics change data or signals (for example, in a computer chip in the water pump).

As electrical devices get smarter, more electronics such as sensors are used. This makes it easier to find out what is going on. For example, water heaters have a lot of sensors to detect if the device is working properly.

The term Electrical is associated with the flow of electrical power or charge. There is a positive charge and a negative and they create an electric field.

Electrical devices convert electrical energy to other forms of energy like light energy, heat energy, sound energy, mechanical energy, etc. For example, when we turn on a bulb or lighting device, electrical energy is transformed into light energy.

When we switch on our electrical heater in the bathroom to heat water, electrical energy converts the room temperature water to hot water. Here the transformation is happening to heat energy.

The term electronics is associated with the flow of electrons. It regulates the electrons and makes it do a certain task. However, both are co-related in many ways as even when the electrical current flows, the electrons flow through the conductor (metals like silver and copper are good conductors) metal wire. Even aluminum is a very good conductor of electricity.

For electronics, the technique is to control the flow of electrons in a particular manner so that the particular function is performed. For manufacturing semiconductors in electronics, elements like silicon (chemical symbol Si) are used. It is readily available in nature.

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History of Electricity

The Early days

In the modern days, English scientist William Gilbert talked about the effects of rubbing amber. He mentioned his findings in his book De Megnete in 1600 AD and tried to establish a magnetic field in a place where electrical current flows. He coined the term ”electricus” to explain this effect and later the English word electricity evolved from that.

Sir Thomas Browne was an English polymath who talked about the effects of electricity in his book Pseudodoxia Epidemica. He was not a scientist and he wrote books on various subjects like science, medicine, religion, the natural world, the esoteric, biblical learnings, and many such things. Hence, his work did not focus on the specific area of the study of electricity.

17th Century onwards

Otto von Guericke, Robert Boyle, Stephen Gray, and C. F. du Fay worked on the principle of electrical current, its origin, and its properties in the 17th and 18th centuries. Benjamin Franklin, whom we consider as the innovator of the concrete understanding of electricity conducted many experiments in the later part of the 18th century and established the theory. We all know about the famous experiment of attaching a key to a kite to study the effects of lightning.

Luigi Galvani further worked on the concepts of bioelectromagnetics, and in 1791 published his discovery. He talked about how neurons worked in our bodies and how they transmitted electricity in very low magnitude to the muscles. Alessandro Volta built a battery using zinc and copper in 1800 AD, and scientists got to know about a better source of electrical production.

Hans Christian Ørsted and André-Marie Ampère did extensive work in the area of electromagnetism between 1889 and 1890. In 1821, Michael Faraday invented the electric motor and that was the beginning of a new era in the field of the development of electrical devices. In 1827, Georg Ohm mathematically analyzed the electrical circuit and to date, we study it in schools as Ohm’s law. The invention of the electric bulb by Thomas Alva Edison was another milestone in the field of electrical innovations.

Alexander Graham Bell, Ányos Jedlik, Charles Algernon Parsons, were some of the notable scientists who made it possible to achieve what we have today in the study of electrical circuits. Galileo Ferraris, George Westinghouse, James Clerk Maxwell, Joseph Swan, Nikola Tesla, were some other notable scientists who worked in the field of electricity and made it popular. The contribution of Oliver Heaviside, Ottó Bláthy, Reginald Fessenden, Werner von Siemens, William Thomson, and 1st Baron Kelvin too was no less in this field.

History of Electronics

Electron was first identified in 1897. Then vacuum tube was invented which could amplify and rectify small electrical signals. In the early 1900s, Ambrose Fleming invented diode and Lee De Forest triode. Commercial radio broadcasting which started evolving in the 1920s used electronic amplifiers. The music recording industry made use of the components of electronics.

A semiconductor is a substance that has the properties of both conductors and insulators. Bardeen and Brattain invented the point-contact transistor in 1947 at the Bell Laboratories in the US. In 1948 Shockley invented the junction transistor. Both these inventions were considered historic in the world of electronics. Bardeen, Brattain, and Shockley were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1956 for their contribution in the field of semiconductor research. Their contribution in developing transistors too was considered by the Nobel committee.

John Bardeen, William Shockley, and Walter Brattain are the inventors of the transistor

Kilby of Texas Instruments and Noyce of Fairchild Semiconductor jointly invented the bipolar integrated circuit (ICs) in 1959. Later this IC was used to develop personal computers. When the first computer was built by the scientists of the University of Pennsylvania in 1946, it occupied the entire building. It used to consume a lot of electricity and used to produce a lot of heat. The invention of IC solved that problem and ever since developments have happened in the field of PC. Today the size of the PC can be as small as a smartphone which fits into a palm.

Semiconductors are essential components of many of the electronics that we use today. Common examples include computers, cell phones, CPUs, digital cameras, washing machines, LED bulbs, refrigerators, microwaves, televisions, and other electronic devices.

Comparison chart between an Electrical Device and Electronics Device

Electronics is that branch of science that controls electron flow by amplification and rectification. Electrical engineering studies the passive effects such as electrical resistance. Resistors typically oppose the flow of electrical current. To understand an electrical circuit well, you need to understand the concepts of capacitance and inductance and how they control electric current flow.

Overview of the difference between electrical and electronics.

Electrical devices deal with electrical energy (for example a welder) whereas electronic devices focus on electrons (for example a computer chip). This means that they are using different materials. Electrical devices mainly use copper whereas electronics mainly use silicon.

Electrical devices use high voltage alternating current. Electronic devices on the other hand use low voltage direct current. This means that electrical devices use a lot more energy.

Electronic devices mainly change data and signals. Electric devices, on the other hand, be used for doing mechanical work (such as pumping up water to increase the water pressure in a house).


If you are planning to study electrical or electronics engineering in college, then you can go for either of them. However, both the branches are interlinked and you will have to understand the principles properly. No electronics gadget can work without electricity. If you like to take up DIY projects which involve electrical and electronics circuits, it is a very good and productive way to understand their functionalities.