ECE Student Success Toolkit – Free circuits textbook

Blog Post created by BradJolly Employee on Aug 20, 2018

A college student recently told me that food at her school’s cafeteria costs about $132 per week, which is a considerable amount of money. The textbook for the introductory circuits class at the same school lists for $187, or roughly ten days of meals. Over the course of an electrical and computer engineering (ECE) major’s undergraduate career, technical textbooks could easily cost thousands of dollars, even for used textbooks. This expense may limit opportunity for some students.


Reducing expenses for students

To reduce these expenses, professors at the University of Michigan, University of Utah, and University of California, Berkeley, have collaborated on the Free Electrical Engineering Textbook Initiative to produce high-quality, free textbooks for ECE students. The books are distributed in PDF form, and instructors may obtain complimentary printed copies. Students may also purchase new, full-color printed copies for $60 to $75, depending on the page count.


One book in the series, Circuit Analysis and Design (, is co-authored by professors Fawwaz T. Ulaby (Michigan), Michael M. Maharbiz (California, Berkeley), and Cynthia M. Furse (Utah). Professor Ulaby is an IEEE Life Fellow, and a winner of both the IEEE Thomas Alva Edison Medal and the IEEE Education Medal. Professor Maharbiz co-invented "neural dust," which is an ultrasonic interface for very small body implants. His group also pioneered radio-controlled cyborg beetles, one of the MIT Technology Review’s top ten emerging technologies in 2009. Professor Furse is both a professor in the ECE department and an Associate Vice President for Research at the University of Utah. She is also a co-founder of LiveWire Innovation, a Utah-based technology company. In short, the three authors are highly accomplished individuals with extensive experience in industry, research, and teaching.

Figure 1: Circuit Analysis and Design cover


Thorough coverage of the topic

The book covers the typical topics that one would expect, including purely resistive circuits, RC and RL circuits, RLC circuits, op amps, filtering, AC power topics (including three-phase), and more. Each chapter begins with learning objectives and ends with a useful quick reference containing key concepts, formulas, and terms. There are problems for checking understanding at the end of each of the 13 chapters – over 800 problems in all.

Figure 2: Chapter summary


The book assumes knowledge of basic integral and differential calculus in some areas, but other topics will be clear to the student with a solid grounding in pre-calculus high school mathematics. The last two chapters cover Laplace transforms and Fourier analysis; these naturally require a very strong math background.


Connecting students to applications

In addition to the typical circuit topics, the book includes 32 technology briefs, which are typically two- to five-page articles on ECE applications. Sample topics include nanotechnology, IC fabrication, RFID tags, audio electronics, and synthetic biology. While the rest of the book does not require information contained in the technology briefs, the student will benefit from reading them to understand the current state of the profession and its opportunities. In addition, some technical topics (for example, 2- and 4-wire measurements) are only covered in the technology briefs.


Figure 3: Technology brief 


The technology briefs are available as standalone articles on the book’s companion Web site, which also includes answers to the book’s concept questions and exercises. An interesting “Test Your Understanding” feature checks student understanding of any chapter by creating an  quiz of five questions randomly selected from a database.



The book is generally very well done, but it has little to no hyperlinking. The user can use the bookmarks feature in the reader to jump to the beginning of specific chapters and appendices, but additional hyperlinks would be useful in navigating quickly through this 795-page book. That quibble aside, Circuit Analysis and Design is an excellent text for typical circuit analysis classes, and ECE departments who adopt it will save their students significant money without compromising quality. They may also find that their students do better on tests if they use the  quiz generators.