Once again, no one came to lab today with their prelab homework done. There was a lot to do again this week, as they needed to figure out how much light was emitted by an LED, how much of that would get through a finger, and how much photocurrent that would induce in a phototransistor. The models they are using are pretty crude, but should be able to get within a factor of 10 of the right amount of current. I provided much more scaffolding in the handout, even doing some of the computations for them, but it doesn’t seem to have helped any. I need to come up with some way to get students to actually do the prelab calculations—maybe collecting them as homework on Mondays?
They also had to do some quick checks to make sure that they could get an LED to light up with the amount of current they designed for, and that the phototransistor and photodiode provided roughly expected currents in room light (and that shadowing the photodetector resulted in a change of current). A lot of the students still had serious problems with debugging (like not being able to figure out that they had put the LED in the wrong way around).
I did show the students the trick of looking at IR emitters with a digital camera to see them light up blue, but the trick did not work with one of the student’s cameras (an iPhone, don’t know which model), which apparently has an IR-blocking filter for its camera.
Only one group got as far as building their transimpedance amplifier, and then only by extending the lab to 4.5 hours instead of 3. I suspect I’m going to have a late night on Thursday this week as well shepherding the rest of the groups through both the first-stage and second-stage of the amplifier.
I found one serious error in my handout for the lab, giving myself a REDO for the lab—the transimpedance amplifier had the + and – inputs swapped! The problem arose because I always put the – input on top, but SchemeIt puts it on the bottom, and I forgot to flip the component before wiring it up. I have already redone the handout, fixing that figure.
Tomorrow’s lecture class is supposed to be on filtering and amplifying the output of the first stage, but with only one group having finished the first stage and observed the output on the scope, this may be a difficult task to explain. I’ll probably have to give them some numbers computed from my results, which were that I got about a 2–9nA pulse-based signal on top of a 100–150nA DC signal.
One important observation that my son made tonight was that the big pulse signals only came when I pressed my finger down with a pressure between my systolic and diastolic blood pressure. I knew that there was a sweet spot, where I could feel my pulse, but I had not stopped to think what caused that. Both feeling the pulse and the large change in blood volume come from stopping the flow during diastole, but allowing blood through during systole.