Electrical Engineering Department

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The Electrical Engineering Department at Columbia University began as a suggestion from Thomas Edison to then President Barnard in 1882. Edison's central electric station had just been put into use in Lower Manhattan, allowing the South Street Seaport area to become the first commercial area with electric light, powered by the wold's first electrical power plant. In 1889, the Columbia Trustees agreed to create a department of electrical engineering to be pursued as a graduate course to compliment the four year curriculum at the School of Mines, the nascent department was headed by Francis Bacon Crocker and Michael Idvorsky Pupin, both Columbia graduates. Prior to being instated as professors of electrical engineering, Crocker had been the founder of the Crocker-Wheeler Electric Motor Company, bringing to the school, a high level of industrial knowledge, and Pupin had been a physicist with graduate training from Germany and England, providing one of the strongest arguments against Edison for use of AC power transmission.

It was under Michael Pupin's laboratory work and instruction of his students that Columbia made a lasting impact in the field of Electrical Engineering. Together with Walter Slichter, J.H. Morecroft, Morton Arendt, and probably most famous, Edwin Howard Armstrong, Columbia began to make lasting contributions to the fields of electrical motors, batteries, power transmission, and radio transmission. Armstrong's work in FM transmission, done primarily in the basement of Philosophy Hall literally changed the world, inventing the regenerative detector as an undergraduate, and the super-regenerative and super-heterodyne circuits, FM multiplexing and wideband radio later in life. Armstrong eventually lost a 12 year patent dispute over the invention of his regenerative circuit and then subsequently lost his claim to FM radio to his employer RCA; Following the lawsuits, Armstrong was near bankrupt and stunned by the loss of ownership over his life's work, he later committed suicide by jumping from his 13th floor apartment in 1954. The Columbia Electrical Engineering Department is ironically housed on the 13th floor of Mudd.

Currently, the electrical engineering department has focused its efforts on communications and networking, signal processing, digital and analog integrated circuits, microelectronic devices, electromagnetics, plasma physics, photonics, and most recently, computational neuroscience (which involves the modeling of brain functional areas such as neurons as non-linear electrical circuits). Patents like the MPEG2 video compression algorithm, designed by electrical engineering professor Dimitris Anastassiou, have accounted for a large portion of the near $40 million revenue taken in each year by the university.

The Electrical Engineering Department is currently ranked 12th by the US News rankings of electrical engineering graduate schools. The undergraduate program is largely held to be one of the most difficult programs offered at Columbia University.