Electrical Engineering, Department of.

Electrical Engineering, Department of. Originally, engineering was associated primarily with the construction of military fortifications and devices. Early in the nineteenth century the application of this rapidly developing body of knowledge for nonmilitary purposes was designated civil engineering. Thereafter, civil engineering encompassed all engineering practice until the late nineteenth century, when increasing knowledge and technological innovation led to specialization and division into various subfields. Electrical engineering was often the first specialty so identified in universities because of the great activity in electrical research, development, and invention of the 1870s.

The stage was set at Princeton when Cyrus Fogg Brackett arrived in 1873 as Professor of Physics. This remarkable, energetic man was most interested in electrical phenomena and their applications. He was a friend of Thomas Edison and often supplied the theoretical basis for the inventor's amazing practical intuition and insight. Brackett's interest led naturally to the establishment of a two-year graduate program, leading to the degree of Electrical Engineer, first announced in the 1889 Catalogue of the College of New Jersey. Although the engineering subjects have changed substantially since that time, the prerequisite education has remained much the same. In particular, the statement in the 1889 catalogue that ``Mathematics will be treated as a working instrument of which the student has already acquired control'' is consistent with the continuing emphasis on applied mathematics in Electrical Engineering. Brackett's role in the establishment of Electrical Engineering at Princeton was recognized when the wing housing this department in the Engineering Quadrangle was named Brackett Hall.

Brackett's successor was Malcolm MacLaren, a practicing electrical engineer from Westinghouse who served as chairman throughout a period of educational change. The technological demands of World War I accentuated the need for engineering education, and special intensive programs were established in the University. This activity further increased the growing interest in undergraduate curricula, and when the School of Engineering was established in 1921, Electrical Engineering was one of five departments offering the Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree for undergraduate specialization in their fields.

MacLaren retired in 1937 and was succeeded by Clodius H. Willis, an expert in power conversion who, during World War II, also faced the pressure of demands for increased engineering education. This time, the development of sophisticated electronic devices placed a relatively greater burden on electrical engineering educators, who were called on to produce graduates capable of dealing with such devices as sonar and radar. In addition to managing army- and navy-supported undergraduate programs, Willis directed a graduate radar training program. During this era, the department became expert at making necessary adaptations; the graduate radar program, for example, used a garage opposite the University Press as its principal laboratory.

In 1950, Willis resigned the chairmanship because of failing health, and Walter C. Johnson replaced him. This was again a period when educational adaptation was needed to accommodate the new directions and changing emphasis that had arisen from the technological developments of the war. In recognition of the growing importance of research requiring advanced mathematics and physics in addition to a high degree of engineering specialization, the Ph.D. program had been introduced in 1946. During Johnson's chairmanship, doctoral education and the accompanying faculty and student research became an increasingly important departmental activity.

In 1966 Mac Elwyn Van Valkenburg, a nationally known circuit theorist, came from the University of Illinois to assume the chairmanship. Under his direction, research and graduate education were further strengthened, and the undergraduate curriculum was revised to reflect the changing directions in the field.

Van Valkenburg returned to the University of Illinois in 1973, and Bruce W. Arden was called from the University of Michigan to become chairman. Arden's principal interests are in the area of computer science and engineering. The development of the electronic digital computer has had a marked impact on society in many ways; at the same time, it has profoundly changed many of the classical engineering problem-solving techniques. Consequently, undergraduate and graduate students are deeply interested in computing, and they are being educated to understand and use this powerful tool in engineering work. In the tradition of engineering at Princeton the Department of Electrical Engineering continues to provide a strong scientific education adapted to current methods and problems.

Bruce W. Arden


From Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, copyright Princeton University Press (1978).

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