In Transimpedance pulse monitor does need low-pass, I realized that Schottky diodes were not going to work well for the transimpedance amplifier, and in Using nFET body diode for log-transimpedance, I tested using the body diode of a power nFET, finding that it worked quite well over at least 7.5 decades (from 1nA to 40mA). But I wanted to see whether students could use a cheap 4¢ general-purpose diode.
I used the same setup as when testing the nFET body diodes. The results were pretty much the same whether I used a 1N914B or 1N4148 diode (they share a datasheet, but the 1N914B has somewhat better constraints on the forward voltage):
When I tried using the 1N914B diode in the same log-transimpedance amplifier as I used for the nFET body diode, it didn’t work—I got output that looked nothing like a pulse (nor like 60Hz interference). I could recover proper behavior by putting a large (100nF) capacitor in parallel with the diode, to make a low-pass filter to remove signals above a few Hz, but that wasn’t necessary for the nFET body diode (perhaps it had enough internal capacitance to do the filtering). I could reduce the capacitor to 100pF, with 60Hz interference coming in, though not being too bad, but reducing to 10pF gave me noise again rather than the pulse signal.
I was hoping not to need that extra capacitor, because the design is already more complicated than I would like for this stage of the course, and figuring out what capacitor to use is difficult—trial and error is easier than rational design here!
I tried tracking down the big, short (less than 250µs) spikes that were corrupting the signal. The first thing I tried cleaned up the problem entirely: disconnecting the power supply from the laptop so that the USB power was coming from the laptop battery rather than the power supply . That this worked actually surprised me, since the 3.3V supply and the 1.65V Vref both had beefy bypass capacitors.
I don’t know whether the noise problems are in the microcontroller (which is providing the regulated 3.3V from the noisy USB 5V) or are coupled into the analog circuit some other way. Putting a 10µF capacitor from the USB5V to GND did not help when the power supply was connected, so perhaps the problem is radiated from the power-supply cable rather than conducted through the USB cable.
I’ve noticed problems before with noise from the laptop power supply causing problems in my analog circuits (the 90kHz interference in my ultrasound experiments), and I’ve see much bigger problems with some of the cheap Windows laptops students use. The bottom line, I guess, is that I have to tell students to run PteroDAQ from battery power, not switching-supply power, even if the power supply seems more than adequately bypassed.