Electrical and Computer Engineering

Technical Areas and Supporting Courses

Undergraduate students in ECE are exposed to a variety of technical areas through common core courses. By making appropriate choices among the available technical elective courses for their program, students are able to acquire more specialized expertise as part of their undergraduate education.

The Department provides collections of suggested electives for each program that allows students to tailor their studies according to "Streams of Specialization." Students may flexibly select electives from one or more Streams to match their interests.

ELEC Program Streams

CMPE Program Streams

This page provides a more general overview of the major technical areas within the undergraduate programs in the Department, and it also provides links to detailed summaries of relevant courses (both core and elective) in order to provide more insight into each of the technical areas. Certain courses appear in more than one technical area because they provide a common foundation for the more specialized courses.

Biomedical Engineering

Biomedical engineering is an emerging field of study that combines elements of various science and engineering disciplines in order to develop enhanced medical devices and procedures. The technology and design/implementation knowledge of electrical and computer engineering have been crucial for numerous advances in biomedical engineering, such as medical imaging, biosensors, and bioinformatics (specialized computing for study of biological systems such as for genetics). Biomedical engineering will only continue to increase in importance with a growing emphasis on medical and health issues in an aging society and an increased use of high-tech equipment for diagnosis and monitoring.

Expertise from electrical and computer engineering that is vital for biomedical engineering ranges from the fundamentals of electric and electronic circuits as the basis for detecting, amplifying, and conditioning bioelectric signals in sensor applications, to the more abstract concepts and applications of probability and signal processing as the means for collecting and interpreting data in biomedical applications. Additionally, specialized expertise can be acquired in the technology and applications of medical imaging, as well as the algorithms and applications for processing of biomedical data and information.

Expertise for biomedical engineering encompasses both hardware and software aspects, hence the scope of core and elective courses that can contribute towards the relevant background is actually quite broad. A somewhat shorter list of relevant circuit/systems/applications courses is provided below, including a fourth-year elective course entirely dedicated to biomedical engineering.

Computer Networks

Ethernet cables connected to a network switch Between the Internet, wired and wireless connections, computers, tablets, cellular telephones, and other portable devices - the field of computer networking has exploded. A wireless router for local area networksUnderlying all of the networking capabilities that are now often taken for granted is a body of theoretical and practical knowledge related to computer systems and software, mathematics to model and characterize information and its flow, and the layered protocols that govern network interconnection and operation. While the knowledge is highly specialized, it is broad in scope and significance and its applications have global consequences.

Links to detailed summaries for relevant courses in the ECE Department:

Digital and Wireless Communications

Representation of communication signalsThe theory and technology of digital wired and wireless communications have had a dramatic impact on society. Engineers specializing in communication systems have played an important role over many decades in the development of this area for applications ranging from cellular telephone systems and Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) technology to the transfer of images captured by deep-space probes. Expertise in this area is based on probability theory, signals and systems as well as other more advanced communications and information theory. Using these notions, the uncertainty or information content of a signal is characterized and measured and then efficient signals and systems are designed to transfer the information reliably and at the lowest cost in the presence of noise and interference. Whereas some of the other technical areas in the discipline concentrate on the lower-level devices and circuits that physically enable the communication, this area is more concerned with system-level design and performance considerations.

Links to detailed summaries for relevant courses in the ECE Department:

Digital Logic and Computer Systems

Board with programmable logic chips for prototypingThe prevalence of digital electronics in everyday life as well as in technical applications is a result of a vast body of theoretical and practical knowledge related to the design and implementation of digital logic and computer systems. Enhancements in microelectronics fabrication technology have enabled the development of larger, faster, and cheaper integrated-circuit (IC) chips that implement digital logic systems. For computer systems, improvements in IC chips have been complemented by advances in computer architecture, which encompasses the organization of processor functional units and their usage by the instruction set of the processor, cache and memory systems, input/output systems, and multiprocessor configurations for increased speedup and higher throughput. In addition, there is greater emphasis on application-specific considerations for reduced power consumption for portable computing equipment and digital devices that rely on battery power; both technological and architectural approaches can be used to satisfy such application requirements.

Microcomputer board with probes for logic analyzerAcquiring a solid grasp of the fundamentals and more advanced concepts related to digital logic and computer systems is essential for computer engineers, but also valuable for software engineers who design and implement the code that executes on digital systems that may be embedded in specific applications, as well as for general-purpose use. Electrical engineers should also have a good understanding of digital logic and computer systems because there is increased use of various combinations of software and digital hardware in areas such as signal processing, communications, control for electric machines and for robotics, and in applications of power electronics.

Links to detailed summaries for relevant courses in the ECE Department:

Digital Signal Processing (DSP)

Signal representation as sum of sinusoidal functionsDSP functionalities are embedded in electronic devices and software that touch many facets of our daily life. DSP functionalities include media players on PCs and iPods, speech coders and modems in cellular phones, image processors on digital cameras, GPS navigators, etc. DSP enables information transmission in telephone and communications infrastructures, measurement and control in medical equipment (such as pacemakers and hearing aids), and formation and analysis of medical, earth, and planetary images. The list of applications is virtually endless!

DSP technologies are a synergy of signals and systems theory, computation algorithms, and hardware and software architectures. Continuous advances in these and allied areas enable DSP to go beyond replacing traditional analog electronic systems. DSP has enabled a vast and growing array of new applications that would not have been built or even envisioned with analog technology. The power of DSP is reflected in the job market: DSP engineers who can execute the design chain from theory to implementation are in high demand. In recent years, advances in DSP design tools such as Matlab and high-level language compilers and simulators have made the experience of learning about and designing sophisticated DSP functions and systems not only easier, but also enjoyable.

Links to detailed summaries for relevant courses in the ECE Department:

Electric Machines and Power Electronics

Laboratory equipment for study of electric machinesConsumer products, human mobility devices, transportation systems, and industrial processes all rely on electric machines and power electronics. Conversion of power between electrical and mechanical forms is an important area of specialization within the discipline. The design and implementation of AC and DC motors has matured over more than a century, and the more recent emergence of power electronics has created new opportunities for innovation in the control of motors for a variety of applications. The additional sophistication afforded by digital logic and computer processing expands the scope of possibilities even further.

Power electronics circuit board under testApplications of electric machines and power electronics include the development of energy-efficient vehicles for personal and mass transportation, harnessing wind power for electricity generation, lifting devices of various kinds, the moveable links and end effectors of sophisticated robots, and many others.

Links to detailed summaries for relevant courses in the ECE Department:


Mechatronics Engineering is the design of computer-controlled electro-mechanical systems.

The word mechatronic was first used in Japan in 1969 to define mechanical devices with electronic controls. Mechatronic systems are now considered to lie at the intersection of mechanical, electrical, computer and control systems engineering. Robots are an excellent example of a mechatronic system. Other examples of mechatronic systems include computer hard-disc drives, anti-lock braking systems, aircraft simulators, fly-by-wire aeroplanes, auto-focus cameras, DVD players, washing machines, and bar-code scanners. Each of these devices is mechanical in nature but would not function without electrical and computer control systems.

With advanced computing hardware and software, and an increase in the demand for high-tech devices, demand for engineers with mechatronics expertise has increased markedly over the past two decades. Students graduating from ECE in the mechatronics stream could expect to find work in the manufacturing, automotive, and aerospace industries, in technical design and decision making positions.

ECE at Queen's University will offer two new mechatronics streams, in both the Electrical Engineering (EE) and Computer Engineering (CE) programs, commencing in September 2012. The streams are anchored in the existing strengths of the ECE programs in computer and electronics hardware, electric machines, alternate energy, control systems, and software engineering. To cover various aspects of mechatronics with hands-on experience, the ECE Department will add three new courses with laboratory components, in Sensors and Actuators, Controls, and Machine Vision, to be developed and phased in for the academic years 2012-13 and 2013-14. Additional complimentary expertise may be acquired through courses from the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. A suggested set of courses for mechatronics streams in both EE and CE are listed below.

Robot in the mechatronics lab

List of Elective Courses for Mechatronic Stream in Electrical Engineering

List of Elective Courses for Mechatronic Stream in Computer Engineering

Microelectronic Circuits and Systems

Phase shift keying modulator integrated circuitSince the development of the first small integrated circuit (IC) chips almost 50 years ago, the technology of microelectronic system fabrication has advanced dramatically. The rate of improvement, even in the early history of this area, was such that a pioneer in the field and co-founder of Intel, Gordon Moore, predicted a doubling of IC chip capacity and performance every 1 to 2 years ("Moore's Law"), a trend that has largely continued for 40 years. IC chips and systems based on them include consumer electronic devices of various kinds, cellular telephone handsets, microprocessors and other devices that are used in all types of computer systems, industrial controllers, automotive electronics, and many other examples.

Utilization of logic resources inside a programmable chipExpertise in this area includes knowledge of circuit and microelectronic device theory, circuit and system design, and integrated circuit engineering. IC chips are used in a variety of analog and digital applications, and even digital applications rely on analog signals to represent digital information, hence a thorough understanding of the analog device and circuit theory is important for this area. All of this expertise is applicable to device-, chip-, and system-level implementation. It can relate to the development of application-specific IC chips, as well as the application of prefabricated programmable logic devices that are IC chips where designers can specify the desired configuration and behavior of the internal logic components with computer-aided design software.

Links to detailed summaries for relevant courses in the ECE Department:

Microwave/Optical Components and Systems

Microscope and test equipment for microwave integrated circuitsTelecommunication systems including cellular telephone networks and the Internet rely on radio-frequency (RF), microwave, and optical components and systems to transmit and receive digital information using analog signals. Expertise in RF and microwave communication systems requires knowledge of electronic circuit behavior at high frequencies in order to design filters, transceivers, and antennas. Expertise in optical communication systems requires knowledge of the principles of laser operation, propagation of light in optical fibres in order to design optoelectronic interfacing components, and optical signal modulation and transmission systems.

In terms of applications, radar systems operate at microwave frequencies and they are used for aircraft navigation, imaging of the surface of the earth, and weather prediction. The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a highly successful application of microwave technology. Microwave circuits are critical for the exploration of the universe. Radio astronomers require high-performance microwave circuits such as low-noise amplifiers to amplify weak signals coming from distant stars.

Laboratory bench with for experimentation with optical signalsTelephone systems and the Internet rely on optical devices for transmitting and receiving information, and optical fibres to carry that information over long distances. The high data rates for optical communication permit multiple channels of information to be time-multiplexed on the same wavelength of light. In addition, the physical characteristics of optical fibres are such that it is possible to transmit data in parallel on different wavelengths of light for even higher aggregate capacity. Optoelectronic and all-optical signal processing are used to ensure the integrity of signals over long distances and therefore provide reliable communication.

Links to detailed summaries for relevant courses in the ECE Department:

Robotics and Control Systems

A collection of robotsRobotics relies on many aspects of the engineering discipline, but is closely associated with feedback control systems, given the requirements for movement and precise positioning of the robotic links and end effectors. Control systems theory is more generally applicable in other areas as well, such as in heating and ventilation, industrial processes, and autopilot mechanisms. In the context of robotics, however, control systems theory is particularly relevant and important. In addition to control theory and the underlying theory related to signals and systems, robot kinematics (positioning and orientation) and dynamics (forces, torques, and motion) are also important aspects of this area.

Links to detailed summaries for relevant courses in the ECE Department:


An example of an integrated software development environmentSoftware is found everywhere from desktop computers and portable electronic devices, to commercial/technical applications such as banking, business operations, manufacturing and industrial processes, and air traffic control. Functionality, reliability, and security in such applications rely upon the processes of software engineering that govern the design, implementation, verification, and evolution of large software systems. Valuable expertise can be acquired in requirements analysis, software design approaches, human-computer interfaces, formal verification, performance analysis and optimization, and many other aspects in the body of knowledge related to software engineering.

Links to detailed summaries for relevant courses in the ECE Department:

Many of our ECE students have taken core and/or elective software related courses offered by the School of Computing. Students selecting our Computer Engineering software engineering option (CMP2) take certain 2nd and 3rd year School of Computing courses as core selections with the majority selecting from the following list. Many of the remaining 3rd year and 4th year courses in the list below are elective choices for all ECE students (if prerequisites are satisfied).

  • CMPE 204 Logic for Computing Science (for CMP2 option)

  • CMPE 212 Introduction to Computing Science II (for all ECE students)
  • CMPE 322 Software Architecture (for CMP2 option)
  • CMPE 323 Introduction to Software Engineering (for all ECE students except CMP2 option)
  • CMPE 325 Human-Computer Interaction
  • CMPE 327 Software Quality Assurance
  • CMPE 332 Database Management Systems
  • CMPE 365 Algorithms I
  • CMPE 422 Formal Methods in Software Engineering
  • CMPE 425 Advanced User Interface Design
  • CMPE 432 Advanced Database Systems
  • CMPE 434 Distributed Systems
  • CISC 435 Computer Networks
  • CMPE 454 Computer Graphics
  • CMPE 458 Programming Language Processors