The operational amplifier is arguably the most useful single device in analog electronic circuitry. With only a handful of external components, it can be made to perform a wide variety of analog signal processing tasks. It is also quite affordable, most general-purpose amplifiers selling for under a dollar apiece. Modern designs have been engineered with durability in mind as well: several "op-amps" are manufactured that can sustain direct short-circuits on their outputs without damage.
One key to the usefulness of these little circuits is in the engineering principle of feedback, particularly negative feedback, which constitutes the foundation of almost all automatic control processes. The principles presented here in operational amplifier circuits, therefore, extend well beyond the immediate scope of electronics. It is well worth the electronics student's time to learn these principles and learn them well.