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2017 February 6

Hysteresis oscillator is voltage-dependent

Filed under: Circuits course,Data acquisition — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 20:42
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Today in class I did a demo where I tested the dependence of the frequency of my relaxation oscillator board on the power supply voltage.

The demo I did in class had to be debugged on the fly (it turns out that if you configure the power supplies of the Analog Discovery 2 to be low-speed waveform channels, then you can’t set them with the “Supplies” tool, but there is no warning that you can’t when you do the setting), but otherwise went well.

One surprising result (i.e., something else that hadn’t happened when I tested the demo at home on Sunday) was that the frequency appeared to go up instead of down when I touched the capacitive touch sensor.  This I managed to quickly debug by changing my sampling rate to 600Hz, and observing that the 60Hz frequency modulation was extreme at the podium, taking the oscillation frequency from 0Hz to 3MHz on each cycle.  Grounding myself against the laptop removed this interference and produced the smooth expected signal.

Anyway, when I got home I was much too tired to grade the lab reports turned in today (I’ve got a cold that is wiping me out), so after a nap and dinner, I decided to make a clean plot of frequency vs. power-supply voltage for my relaxation oscillator.  I stuck the board into a breadboard, with no touch sensor, so that the capacitance would be fairly stable and not too much 60Hz interference would be picked up.  I powered the board from the Analog Discovery 2 power supply, sweeping the voltage from 0V to 5V (triangle wave, 50mHz, for a 20-second period).

I used the Teensy LC board with PteroDAQ to record both the frequency of the output and the voltage of the power supply.  To protect the Teensy board inputs, I used a 74AC04 inverter with 3.3V power to buffer the output of the hysteresis board, and I used a voltage divider made of two 180kΩ resistors to divide the power-supply voltage in half.

When I recorded a few cycles of the triangle waveform, using 1/60-second counting times for the frequency measurements, I got a clean plot:

At low voltages, the oscillator doesn't oscillate. The frequency then goes up with voltage, but peaks around 4.2V, then drops again at higher voltages.

At low voltages, the oscillator doesn’t oscillate. The frequency then goes up with voltage, but peaks around 4.2V, then drops again at higher voltages.

I expected the loss of oscillation at low voltage, but I did not expect the oscillator to be so sensitive to power-supply voltage, and I certainly did not expect it to be non-monotone.  I need to heed my class motto (“Try it and see!”) more often.

Sampling at a higher frequency reveals that the hysteresis oscillator is far from holding a steady frequency:

Using 1/600 second counting intervals for the frequency counter reveals substantial modulation of the frequency.

Using 1/600 second counting intervals for the frequency counter reveals substantial modulation of the frequency.

This plot of frequency vs. time shows the pattern of frequency modulation, which varies substantially as the voltage changes, but seems to be repeatable for a given voltage. (One period of the triangle wave is shown.)

This plot of frequency vs. time shows the pattern of frequency modulation, which varies substantially as the voltage changes, but seems to be repeatable for a given voltage. (One period of the triangle wave is shown.)

Zooming in on a region where the frequency modulation is large, we can see that there are components of both 60Hz and 120Hz.

Zooming in on a region where the frequency modulation is large, we can see that there are components of both 60Hz and 120Hz.

I could reduce the 60Hz interference a lot by using a larger C and smaller R for the RC time constant. That would make the touch sensor less sensitive (since the change in capacitance due to touching would be the same, but would be a much smaller fraction of the total capacitance). The sensor is currently excessively sensitive, though, so this might be a good idea anyway.

2017 February 5

Units matter

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 11:37
Tags: , , , , ,

I was a little surprised by how many students had trouble with the following homework question, which was intended to be an easy point for them:

Estimate C2(touching) − C2(not touching), the capacitance of a finger touch on the packing-tape and foil sensor, by estimating the area of your finger that comes in contact with the tape, and assume that the tape is 2mil tape (0.002” thick) made of polypropylene (look up the dielectric constant of polypropylene on line). Warning: an inch is not a meter, and the area of your finger tip touching a plate is not a square meter—watch your units in your calculations!

Remember that capacitance can be computed with the formula C = \frac{\epsilon_r\epsilon_0 A}{d}~,
where \epsilon_r is the dielectric constant,  \epsilon_0=8.854187817E-12 F/m is the permittivity of free space, A is the area, and d is the distance between the plates.

The problem is part of their preparation for making a capacitance touch sensor in lab—estimating about how much capacitance they are trying to sense.

There is a fairly wide range of different correct answers to this question, depending on how large an area is estimated for a finger touch. I considered any area from 0.5 (cm)2 to 4 (cm)2 reasonable, and might have accepted numbers outside that range with written justification from the students.  Some students have no notion of area, apparently, trying to use something like the length of their finger times the thickness of the tape for A.

People did not have trouble looking up the relative dielectric constant of polypropylene (about 2.2)—it might have helped that I mentioned that plastics were generally around 2.2 when we discussed capacitors a week or so ago.

What people had trouble with was the arithmetic with units, a subject that is supposed to have been covered repeatedly since pre-algebra in 7th grade. Students wanted to give me area in meters or cm (not square meters), or thought that inches, cm, and m could all be mixed in the same formula without any conversions.  Many students didn’t bother writing down the units in their formula, and just used raw numbers—this was a good way to forget to do the conversions into consistent units.  This despite the warning in the question to watch out for units!

A lot of students thought that 1 (cm)2 was 0.01 m2, rather than 1E-4 m2. Others made conversion errors from inches to meters (getting the thickness of the tape wrong by factors of 10 to 1000).

A number of students either left units entirely off their answer (no credit) or had the units way off (some students reported capacitances in the farad range, rather than a few tens of picofarads).

A couple of students forgot what the floating-point notation 8.854187817E-12 meant, even though we had covered that earlier in the quarter, and they could easily have looked up the constant on the web to figure out the meaning if they forgot.  I wish high-school teachers would cover this standard way of writing numbers, as most engineering and science faculty assume students already know how to read floating-point notation.

Many students left their answers in “scientific” notation (numbers like 3.3 10-11 F) instead of using more readable engineering notation (33pF). I didn’t take off anything for that, if the answer was correct, but I think that many students need a lot more practice with metric prefixes, so that they get in the habit of using them.

On the plus side, it seems that about a third of the class did get this question right, so there is some hope that students helping each other will spread the understanding to more students.  (Unfortunately, the collaborations that are naturally forming seem to be good students together and clueless students together, which doesn’t help the bottom half of the class much.)

2017 January 29

Thermistor lab graded

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:14
Tags: ,

I just spent my entire weekend grading 37 design reports for the thermistor lab—it has not been a fun weekend.  The coming week or two will be grading hell, as I have homework due for the 72-person class Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (with another lab report due next Monday), and no grader or TA.

This lab report was the first of the quarter, so there were a lot more problems with the submissions than I expect to see on future lab reports.  I’ve tried to collect some of my notes on the more common writing errors for this blog post, with the intent of trying to work them into the chapter on lab reports in the textbook:

  • Some students had wordy introductions. I want reports to start with a clear, concise statement of the engineering goal, not a dump of any random factoid that might be vaguely related to the report.
  • Report should be standalone—not referring to homework. If something in the homework is needed, incorporate it!
  • Use paragraphs with one topic each. Every paragraph should start with a topic sentence, and the rest of the paragraph (if there is any) should support and amplify that topic sentence. It is better to have one-sentence paragraphs than to ramble from topic to topic without a paragraph break.
  • Fit your model to your data, not your data to a model. You should never be changing your data to make it fit your theory—you should be changing your theory to fit your data.If you say you are fitting your data to your model, you are claiming to commit scientific fraud.
  • Best-fit curves are not necessarily lines—students don’t have a “line of best fit” in this lab, because the models we’re fitting are nonlinear.
  • Figure captions should be paragraphs below figure, not noun phrases above figure. Any anomalies or interesting features of the figure should be pointed out in the caption.  Most of the crucial content of the report should be in the figures and captions, because that is all 90% of readers ever look at in a science or engineering paper.
  • Refer to figures and equations by number, rather than “schematic below” or “equation above”.
  • Don’t use screenshots for schematics or gnuplot output—export graphics properly as PDF files and incorporate them into the report so that they can be printed at full resolution even when scaled.
  • Many students use way too much passive voice.  Using passive voice is a way to hide who did something or deny responsibility (see Nixon’s “mistakes were made”) and should not be necessary in a design report.
  • Use past tense for things that have been done, not present tense.  Also, “would” is not some formal version of the past tense—it is a marker for the subjunctive mood in English, which has a whole lot of different uses.  In technical writing, the most common use of subjunctive is for “contrary to fact”.  If you say “I would put the thermometer in the water”, I immediately want to know why you don’t—I expect to see the sentence continue with “, but I won’t because …”
  • “Software” is an uncountable noun, which means that it can’t be used with the indefinite article “a”.  There are a lot of uncountable nouns in English, and there isn’t much sense to which words are countable and which aren’t—even closely related languages with similar notions of countable and uncountable nouns mark different nouns as uncountable.  I’ve only found one dictionary that marks countability of English nouns—the Oxford Dictionary of American English, which is available used for very little money.
  • Equations are part of a sentence (as a noun phrase), not random blobs that can be sprinkled anywhere in the paper.  No equation should appear without a textual explanation of its meaning, and the meaning of its variables.
  • There was a lot of misuse of “directly proportional” and “inversely proportional”: A directly proportional relationship plots as a straight line through zero. The voltage output in the thermistor lab is not directly proportional to temperature—it is increasing with temperature, but the function is sigmoidal, not linear.  Similarly, an inversely proportional relationship between x and y is a direct relationship between 1/x and y. It plots as a hyperbola. The resistance of a thermistor is not inversely proportional to temperature, as the resistance is proportional to e^{B/T}  not B/T.
  • Read the data sheet carefully!  A lot of students claimed that their thermometers were good to 150°C, but the data sheet said that the thermistor they were using had a maximum temperature range of  –40°C to 105°C, not 150°C.
  • Students need to use the right metric prefixes.  For example, “kilo” is a lower-case “k” not an upper-case “K”.  This becomes even more urgent for “micro” (µ), “milli” (m), and “mega” (M).  At least one report needs to be redone because the students claimed a value around 200MΩ, when they (probably) meant 200mΩ.  What’s a factor of a billion between friends?
  • Some students are clearly not used to using the prefixes, because I saw a lot of values around 0.0001kΩ, which should have been written 0.1Ω (or even 100mΩ).  Even worse, a lot of students just wrote 0.0001, with no indication what the units were (that triggered a number of “redo” grades on the reports).
  • “Lastly” is not a word—”last” is already an adverb. The same goes for “first”, “second”, and “third”. Perhaps it is easier to keep this in mind if you think of “next”, which is in the same class of words that are both adjectives and adverbs. For some reason, students never write “nextly”.
  • The ×  symbol (\times in LaTeX) is only used for crossproduct, not for scalar multiplication (except in elementary school). The normal way to show scalar multiplication is juxtaposition of the variables, with no operator symbol.
  • “Before” and “after” make no sense in the voltage divider circuit. You can sometimes use those terms in a block diagram that has a clearly directed information flow from inputs to output, but not for talking about the two legs of a voltage divider.




2017 January 19

Project ideas for freshman design seminar

Filed under: freshman design seminar — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 09:47
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I haven’t blogged much about the freshman design seminar lately.  So far, I’ve had the students take the training to use the drill press and scroll saw in the (rather limited) Baskin School of Engineering Fab Lab, and had them look for projects they might be interested in doing.  At one point, before the quarter started, I looked into using the Neptune software from Boston University (which I found out about at the iGEM Jamboree) for designing and building low-cost microfluidic systems, but the software was nowhere near ready for use by freshmen, and I did not have the time get all the pieces figured out and working with the somewhat different hardware tools we had available. So, as in previous years, I’ll be counting on the students to come up with a couple of projects that they are interested in and capable of making a good start on.  This is only a 2-unit class, so they only have 6 hours a week on it, 3 of which are in class.

I assigned them the task of finding interesting projects they would want to work on and providing links to web pages about the projects. I think that they may have been overly influenced by an example I brought up in class, but there seems to be a fairly large group interested in an EMG-controlled prosthesis.  That’s a bit ambitious for a 2-unit freshman course, but we could do an EMG, we could do some simple programming for servo motors (I think that more sophisticated motor control would take more time than we have), and we could probably get an already designed hand printed or laser-cut.

Here are some of the project ideas they’ve come up with, grouped by student, in their own words—I’ve not even fixed the typos:

Vernier has a simple (but kind of expensive) EKG sensor that records the electrical events happening within the heart. This sensor uses a digital control unit as well as an EKG sensor. Also, we would need some additional software help.
Vernier also has a project that is an LED color mixer that uses digital control unit. This will have the ability to shine red, blue, and green light, any of which can be shone individually or with other lights.

Similarly to the EKG sensor, Vernier has a blood pressure sensor that calculates blood pressure. Vernier uses a blood pressure sensor and digital control unit in order to carry out the experiment. This device has a cuff that is placed on the upper arm to in order to pressurize the arteries. The sensor monitors the pressure in units of mm Hg.
I thought this website was interesting as they have links to interesting DIY lab equipment such as the micro centrifuge.,_open-source_hardware
This website was has a large amount of open source hardware for science and also 3D printed equipment

From that website, I found
which was a DIY microscope

and also
for a DIY Bioprinter

[Later, from the same student:],_open-source_hardware
This website was has a large amount of open source experiments and DIYs

and I’d like to do an Arduino robotic arm project

-This would be my number one choice for a project to design. This post in particular doesn’t have a whole lot of specifics as to what parts were used, and how they built it, but it does have a brief explanation of how it works. [The student doesn’t say what the project is, but it seems to be an EMG-controlled RC car.]
-The  basics of an EMG and how they work. Materials and a quick blurb about cost vs learning. It would actually cost more to buy the components and build it ourselves than it would be to just buy a pre-built MyoWare. That being said, the learning experience is important.
-Again, pretty basic idea, but this site seems to have more about the coding and signaling from the EMG to the RC car
-Just the basic ideas behind an EMG and possible research applications

A free 3d printable prosthetic hand off of thingiverse.

This is a page detailing how to create a simple EMG.

Attached is also an extensive paper on making a myoelectric prosthetic hand. [attachment from email is not included here—there is a reason the assignment required links, not attachments]

How to build a CNC machine
Remote webcam — could be placed on robot
Wind turbine generator

This is a blood pressure diagnostic devise.
We can work on sensors, and it seems like a freshmen project.
Let me know what you think.  [Not a valid link, so I have no idea what the student is talking about.]
So I saw this, and I noticed the price. But if we could make the individual parts our self, and at the same time learn to implement human movement into a devise such as this it would be awesome. The correlation of movements are what interest me in this project.
Please let me know what you think. [The model arm to imitate a human arm is indeed pricey, as are all Pasco products.]

I’m interested in building nerve controlled prosthetic limb.(EMG)

This is a link that somewhat describes EMG with lots of article links at the bottom.

Homemade Electrocardiograph/ Will ONLY cost about $10/ Will take about 2-3 weeks/ Code available in a zip file. 

exiii HACKberry

3D Printed Bionic Arm/ costs about $200/ Open sourced/ Developed as a cheaper alternative to prosthetics/ Site has tutorials from assembling to programming. 
Response from a different student:
The Homemade ECG really seems like a cool project, but there was a warning about how it was dangerous because to try it someone has to attach the sensors to their chest. 

I like the HACKberry prostetic hand. We would need to choose a specific part out of it that we want to work on since it is a big project, I think. 

I would like to focus on learning how to program the hand to open and close. Also, I would love to learn how to design and construct it.

for this project, I want to work on making a functional mechanic hand.

I would like to make a foot-glove massager with an insert in between the big toe and the second toe using some of the concepts found at these links:

If it’s possible I’d like the glove to be able to massage the foot as if it was “kneading”/”squeezing” the foot.
The idea would be to help people (old or young) with bunions in their foot. You can read more about this foot problem here:

2017 January 8

Applying for Mini Maker Faire 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 17:41
Tags: , , , ,

I’m submitting an application for the Santa Cruz Mini Maker Faire 2017 (2017 April 29), since last year’s Mini-Maker Faire went well (see Santa Cruz Mini Maker Faire went well).  This year I’m getting my application in early, rather than dithering about it for months as I did last year.  I have less free time to prepare the display this year, but I have a better notion what I want to do, so it should not take long to get ready.

Last year's banner, which I can reuse this year. I might also make a shorter one that will fit on the front of the table.

Last year’s banner, which I can reuse this year. I might also make a shorter one that will fit on the front of the table.

The “non-public” description of my display is straightforward:

I’ll bring a tabletop full of electronics projects, as last year (see ).

Laptops demonstrating free software to turn cheap microprocessor boards into data-acquisition systems suitable for home labs and science-fair projects.
Homemade LED desk lamp and stroboscope.

Several of the projects will be interactive (an optical pulse-rate monitor, oscillators that can be adjusted to change Lissajous figures on an oscilloscope, …).

A few changes from last year: a more reliable pulse-monitor design and a new USB oscilloscope.

The public blurb is similar to last year’s:

See your pulse on a home-made optical pulse monitor!
Record air pressure waveforms using free PteroDAQ data acquisition software!
Play with a bright custom-design LED stroboscope!
Control fancy Lissajous patterns on an oscilloscope!

I removed mention of an EKG, because I decided that it was too much trouble to tether myself with EKG leads all day.

My “Maker bio” is a bit boring, :

Kevin Karplus has been an engineering faculty member at UCSC since 1986, but has done hobbyist electronics on-and-off since the 1960s. For the past few years he has been working on a low-cost textbook to make hands-on analog electronics accessible to a wider range of students.  Several of the projects on display are from the textbook.

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