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Ask HN: What are some nice electronics courses that blend theory and practice?
120 points by thro1237 on Jan 2, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 50 comments
I am looking for an electronics course that is a good blend of theory and practice. I studied electronics in college and remember Kirchoff's laws and the like, but nothing else. The ideal course would probably start off from there and would include lot of practical circuits to build while explaining the theory of each circuit would work.

I highly recommend the Student Guide to the Art of Electronics: http://www.amazon.com/The-Art-Electronics-Student-Manual/dp/...

The book covers the basics of both analog and digital, and focuses on developing intuition without getting _too_ bogged down by theory, with accompanying labs/projects. I took the course taught by the author of the book before going to school to study the same subject area, and it helped me develop intuition and general electronics knowledge in a way no other course has.

If you want preview of the book, e-mail me and I can send you some scans.

TAOE is an awesome book. Leave it to physicists to write a proper electronics textbook.

(The op amp circuit diagram is also neat.)


I wouldn't recomment The Art of Electronics, at all. Sure, it's an amazing book, but TAOE breezes through foundations and OP says he only remembers Kirchhoff's law.

I think OP wants a book that takes him from there: Tony Kuphaldt's series of books (available for free to download) titled: "Lessons in Electric Circuits".

These babies are 6 books: DC, AC, Semiconductors, Digital.

There's also a book for Experiments where you get the info you need to set up a home lab, and then experiment with the stuff you learned the theory of in the other books.

And a reference book you go to.


The author has also a book titled: "Lessons in Industrial Instrumentation".

"Electronics" is a very vast domain. A lot of reading is needed to itch a specific scratch.

For example, our course about transistors. Yeah, solid physics and band gaps and holes, and manufacturing...

Then after you start using them, you work with "The gain, Beta, is 200". And you go "What makes it 200?"

Like in the manufacturing process, how do you make it that way.

Then you read the late Hans Camenzind's great "Designing Analog Chips" and get to where he explains the influence of the Base thickness.. And you go "Whooaaa". You scratched an itch you had for a long time. The books you read didn't answer that specific question.

Camenzind made the circuit you probably know, NE555. The book is available for free on his site:


Good luck, and if you need anything (resources, etc), feel free to contact me.

Agreed! This book imparts a good mix of theory and "real world" advice. It also comes with strange quirky comics to help you remember things:


Curiously, you linked the Student Manual for TAOE. I was under the impression that the Manual was more of a supplement to the main text than a standalone book. I've been looking to buy a hobbyist-friendly yet comprehensive electronics book for quite a while now. Do you recommend I get the Manual alone or do I need the TAOE book (which appears to be a bit expensive to me at the moment)?

I think the Student Manual more or less stands as its own text. Obviously, there are some complements to TAOE, but I don't think it's necessary for the manual. TAOE is more like a cookbook than a textbook; it makes for a great reference but I wouldn't recommend trying to learn directly from it.

If you're curious, I have some scans that you can use to preview the book.

If you are willing to consider eBooks, I find the ones at All About Circuits [1] quite accessible. They are yet to be completed in their entirety but the parts which exist are well-written and do well to cover both the theory and practical considerations (there is a laboratory book supplement available too IIRC). Plus, there is a nice forum to turn to for helpful discussions.

For a free resource, it is right up there with TSEGDSP [2].

[1] http://www.allaboutcircuits.com/

[2] http://www.dspguide.com/pdfbook.htm

I actually learned a great deal from just reading Sedra and Smith's book on microelectronics. You don't need much more than algebra and trig to comprehend what is going on in this book.

There is some sloppiness in the book, but the first 5-10 chapters, with enough struggling, get you to think in terms of the basic models that you learn about early on. Once you understand how things break down conceptually, mapping theory to reality becomes a more manageable fight as you cross reference theory while looking at existing designs.

I would caution against starting on this text because it's typically at the upperclassman/graduate level, containing details about transistor models and amplifier design that you don't need to know unless you're considering a career in microelectronics design. It also assumes a lot of background so you might find yourself moving at a snail's pace. Otherwise, I thought it was a great text heavy on theory.

I agree with your warning, but would advise the reader to struggle with this book and embrace the struggle.

The text helped me with a lot of hobbyist discrete circuit design. The reason is because, in the book, they have little "model" transformations of active circuit components. Breaking things down into models that can be studied with KVL and KCL, as well as simple approximations and rules for dealing with the various modes of transistors, makes the subject accessible. (At least, to me anyway.)

I guess, to add a little bit to the suggestion: buy a used, outdated copy of this book, and try to work through a chapter every 2 months or so. Having a solutions manual on hand helps a lot also.

As already mentioned, Sedra is quite heavy on theory. I would recommend Rezavi instead. It's tone is much more casual and backs most of the theory with practical applications. Even so, it is quit rigorous and does not lack in examples both solved and not.

Related question, sorry for hijacking this thread:

Are there any simulator-games out there? Like:

"Here are available components in your components box, now draw a circuit that lights an LED without distroying it, regardless how the 5V input voltage is connected. Max component count: 4"

Something in the spirit of Euler-project, but with electronics.

It's half of your question, but a good basic electronic logic simulator is http://www.cburch.com/logisim/

A digital electronics book could be paired with it for exercises. Or heck build your own microcontroller or something.

A similar method is to instead of using a game to simulate circuits in software, use an FPGA to simulate a circuit in hardware. A cool book I've used to here, http://www.amazon.com/FPGA-Prototyping-VHDL-Examples-Spartan...

It will take you step by step from creating simple shift registers to displaying an image over VGA (which you implement yourself).

This is what I want too. I imagine I could learn what I want to learn about 20x faster with such a game.

BTW if you want to collaborate together to spec out the game we want maybe someone who already understands the relevant theory can help create such a game.

I want to start with questions like:

- create a voltage divider to do ___

- what value of resistor is needed to bias the transistor properly to start oscillation? (would show the rest of the context)

- choose three components to create a low pass filter

- which transistor would work with this oscillator circuit? (multiple choice)

- why doesn't the LED in this circuit light?

There are thousands of simple questions/exercises that would (I think) pave the way for slightly more complex questions... it would be such a fun game :)

I commented below, and I would be happy to collaborate and can provide the theory as well as development. I'd love to get in contact, you can reach me at davep dot goliath @ gmail dot com

sent you an email

I was looking for the same thing and found this: http://www.falstad.com/circuit/

It shows blocks traveling across wires/circuits. You can create your own circuits and see what happens. It's not just for logic, but you can see how analog circuits operate as well. The speed of the blocks represents the current flowing and the color of the wires represents the voltage.

I wish more stuff like this was available for circuitry. It gives a nice basic intuition how things work and shows why I need to place a resistor in front of a LED.

Nto directly what you're looking for, but an arduino starter kit would only set you back abouut 50 dollars, and has everything you could need to get started with that sort of assignment. It also teaches you to be careful :)

I'd also be happy to collaborate in such a game. I have little knowledge of the theory behind it, so i would play the developer role. Just mail me.

How do I mail you? I just graduated with an Electrical Engineering degree. I am looking to start a career with a young company - which gives me flexibility to work on my own projects as I job search. I have kept most of my course work from the past 4 years and would be happy to help with both development, theory, and example class material. You can reach me at davep dot goliath @ gmail dot com

Speaking as someone who picked up hobby electronics not too long ago, I recommend Paul Scherz's "Practical Electronics for Inventors" [1]. Good mix of theory as well as practice.

[1]: http://www.amazon.com/Practical-Electronics-Inventors-Paul-S...

Contextual Electronics sounds like just what you're interested in with both design and implementation of electronics. The course is about to start later in January too: https://contextualelectronics.com/

I am looking forward to two embedded system courses in EdX.

Electronic Interfaces: Bridging the Physical and Digital Worlds: https://www.edx.org/course/electronic-interfaces-bridging-ph...

Embedded Systems - Shape The World: https://www.edx.org/course/embedded-systems-shape-world-utau...

EdX has got some nice electronics courses: https://www.edx.org/course

Between, I am from compsci background

I took Embedded Systems last spring and it was great. Students interface to the outside world by programming an ARM microcontroller using C language. The staff and fellow students provide tremendous support on the boards. Here's the syllabus:


Here are some projects from last year:


I recently purchased this book, along with three different kits that supplied all the tools and components I would need to carry out the experiments for roughly the first two thirds of the book (total cost: around 300 dollars, I know I could have gotten most of this stuff cheaper but such is life). My experience was...mixed. The book did a great job explaining some of the basic principles of electronics but these kind of cookbook tutorials don't seem to work as well as say a book that will teach you everything you need to know about Ruby programming. Eventually you will need to start from hard theoretic principles in order to design your own circuits.

I've come to the realization that you need to pull from a bunch of different sources to get a good enough background in the domain of electrons to start building a project you want to see realized, and that mastery in this domain is probably a journey that can be measured in decades.

I highly recommend this book. The first practical lesson, as I recall, has you short-circuit a battery and destroy an LED. It's great to learn the limits of typical components this way, and it takes away the fear of breaking stuff. It's written simple enough to be followed by a child, but I had a blast going through it as a physics grad student who knew electrodynamics and very little electronics.

The first two editions had quite a few errata, but there is an online page for them:


I've been following this course (to refresh my informal knowledge of electronics, which I haven't touched since I discovered it was way cheaper to write broken code than build a broken circuit back in my teens) and it's pretty good. I like how they mix the theory with practical experiments showing it in practice.

I don't recommend the Kindle version though, the formatting is really lacking.

Thanks for the recommendation. I just purchased the Kindle version. I'm not really an electronics guy, but have always been interested in how it works. Will do by best to put this book to use!


In elementary/middle and even high school I absolutely loved this book. I even had a backup copy. It might be a bit more basic than you need if you studied it in college though.

Somehow I knew before clicking the link that it would be this book.

I also read it several times, my father's copy in junior high, a copy I bought in high school, and another copy in early college.

Though I'd probably recommend the Art of Electeonics as mentioned up thread, along with the student manual. I took that Physics 123 class at Harvard taught by Horowitz and Hayes, and it was amazing.

I loved coursera's course on audio electronics. Starts from absolute scratch, but has you building an amplifier and giving you an understanding of everything in between.

A related question is -- Are there good simulators (preferably over the web) that one can use?

http://www.falstad.com/circuit/ https://www.circuitlab.com/

I recommend LTSpice as a desktop circuit simulator/analyzer.

I evaluated few simulators today. Since this is an on-off hobby, I wanted to avoid anything that requires a subscription. I found an app called Everycircuit. The paid version is $10, but there is a limited time free trial as well. Seems very user friendly and nice. LTSpice looked pretty neat and perhaps is very comprehensive, but didn't look very polished and has a learning curve. All these apps use spice behind the scenes. In Linux found an application called ngspice. It is commandline, but pretty nifty.

Check this out - http://123d.circuits.io/

I'm signed up for https://www.coursera.org/course/introtoelectronics

Starts in late March.

I actually started looking at this the other day on Open Courseware - as I'd set myself a resolution this year to put together a little embedded\SBC system and needed to understand electronics in more detail[0]. It's a little bit intimidating. For example in the first few sentences he started referring to Maxwell's equations in very familiar terms (something like "we all know about Maxwell's equations already...") which threw me slightly and made me wonder if there's probably a better introduction to electronics out there.

[0] = http://blog.mclemon.io/new-years-resolutions-2015

For example in the first few sentences he started referring to Maxwell's equations in very familiar terms (something like "we all know about Maxwell's equations already...")

This, incidentally, is exactly like going to MIT.

While I don't disagree, 8.02 (Electricity and Magnetism), which basically spends the semester teaching Maxwell's equations, is a prereq for 6.002.

I took it, there is no need to fear, maxwell's equations aren't used at all for the problem sets. The only real mention of it I think was when Dr. Argawal derived Kirchoff's circuit laws, and then later when mentioning cross talk.

So. There's no vector calculus, but there are some easy differential equations later on and the T.A's work through some sample problems to bring people up to speed.

I think you'd be hard pressed to find a better intro to electronics, it is excellent.

Excellent, thanks for confirming. I've got a lot on my plate so presuming this was the famous MIT "drinking from a firehose" I decided to shelve it for the time being. But if it's one of the better ways to get started, I'll give it another try soon.

Edit: I just watched through the intro again and I clearly wasn't paying attention at all when I first watched this, as he says exactly what you described. I will blame my wandering mind on the fact that I was hungry and my girlfriend was cooking up something tasty in the kitchen at the time :)

edX is not OpenCourseware. Very different courses. Same material taught, but OCW is just lecture captures of MIT classes. edX is full courses designed for a global audience.

I figured that there may be differences, but they'd be covering the same materials for the most part. Also I can't see how to access the edX materials, so there's currently no way to follow this course other than checking out the OCW resources. I'll keep my eyes peeled for this opening up again on edX in future.

You don't have to know physics to benefit from 6.002x.

Thank you very much everyone for all your useful comments. This community is awesome.

Enroll in undergraduate physics at a community college, or as an unmatriculated student at a university. The electricity and magnetism theory as taught to physicists is in many ways better than that taught to engineers.

Alternatively - and less expensive - read The Feynman Lectures on Physics by Feynman, Leighton and Sands, followed by the first part of Jackson's Electrodynamics.

University of California Santa Cruz' Physics Department has two good courses that teach how to design and build the electronics for use as experimental apparatus. The first quarter is analog, the second digital. After I took both courses, I did well at a summer job where I repaired electronic gear for the department.

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