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2016 July 13

Autoranging capacitance meter using TeensyLC

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 09:59
Tags: , , , ,

 

My earlier post, Capacitance meter using touchRead(), showed the beginnings of a capacitance meter, using the touchRead() routine in the Teensyduino environment.

Today I’ll share a slightly more complicated program that uses the TSI (touch sensing input) peripheral more directly to make an autoranging capacitance meter that can measure capacitors down to 1pF and up to 3µF.  The repeatability of the measurements is not great (about ±3%), but the linearity seems pretty good.

The program includes the ability to zero out the test fixture (important for measuring small capacitances) and to calibrate the meter to a known capacitor.  I don’t have a capacitor with a tight tolerance, so I had to do my calibration against a DT-9205A multimeter, which is not a very reliable standard.  Still, it seemed more consistent than the labeling on the cheap ceramic capacitors I have, some of which seem to be off by a factor of two!

The multimeter could not measure capacitances at the low end of the range, so only nominal values are used there.

The multimeter could not measure capacitances at the low end of the range, so only nominal values are used there.

A number of the capacitors in the 100pF–10nF range seemed to drift consistently upward for quite a while, both with the multimeter and my homebrew capacitance meter. Touching them with my finger brought them sharply back down again, but touching them with stainless steel tweezers did not. I suspect that the effect is a thermal one, with the capacitance dropping when my fingers warmed the capacitors and going up again as the capacitors cooled to room temperature. The change was several percent, which is consistent with a low-quality “Y” dielectric.

// Preliminary program for a capacitance meter
// Kevin Karplus
// 2016 Jul 13


// To use:
//	* Connect a serial monitor (like the Arduino IDE) to the USB port
//	* Connect capacitor to measure between pin 0 and ground
//	* Press "a" and <return> to make an autorange measurement.

// Capacitances in the range 1pF to 3uF can be measured, but large
// capacitors take a long time to measure, up to 9s for 3uF.
// The measurement time can be reduced by reducing NUM_READS, perhaps
//	replacing the constant by an array dependent on range.
//	A factor of about 10 reduction in measurement time is available, as
//	NUM_READS is currrently set to 20.

// Note: readings may drift by +- 5%.  I've not yet determined the
// cause of this drift.  It may be thermal (cooling from finger
// temperature to room temperature may raise the capacitance by 2%,
// depending on the additives to the ceramic used as the dielectric).

// To calibrate:
//	* Remove capacitors from pin 0
//	* Type 'z' to measure the counts for the empty test fixture
//	* Pick a known capacitor (around 1nF) and connect it between
//		pin 0 and ground.  The capacitor must be small enough
//		to be measurable on the highest-resolution range (<=3nF).
//		To calibrate with a larger capacitor, first calibrate with
//		a small one to get the highest-resolution range set, then
//		repeat the calibration with the larger capacitor, which
//		will only reset the larger ranges.
//	* Type 'k', followed by an integer known capacitance in pF,
//		followed by a separator (like ';')
//	* Type 'c', to measure the pF per count

// Note: the calibrations are reported to the USB serial port, so they
// can be saved and used to edit the source code, changing count_for_0pF
// and pf_per_count arrays.

// The measurement process can be followed in more detail by turning
// on debugging with the 'D' command.
// Debugging can be turned off with the 'd' command.

// Capacitance is measured on pin 0 (one of several pins with TSI),
// because pin 0 is immediately next to ground, making it easy to connect
// small capacitors between pin 0 and ground.
#define TOUCH_PIN (0)

// forward references to later routines
int32_t capRead(uint8_t pin, 
		uint8_t I_ext=3, uint8_t I_ref=4, 
		uint8_t Prescale=2, uint8_t N_scan=9);
float autoCapRead(uint8_t pin);
int readInt(void);
void print_calib(int count, int n_cycles=1);
float read_counts_per_cycle(uint8_t i_ext, uint8_t i_ref,float count_for_zero);

volatile uint8_t debug;

// The current for the external oscillator and the reference
// oscillator of the TSI interface determine the capacitance range, resolution,
// and speed of the measurement.
// The program uses the highest-resolution range that does not cause
// the 16-bit counter to overflow.

// Settings of the current paramters for the different ranges
// The highest-resolution range is first, the widest range is last.
#define NUM_RANGES (6)
const int8_t i_ext_choices[NUM_RANGES] = {2,3,4,5,6,7};
const int8_t i_ref_choices[NUM_RANGES] = {5,4,3,2,1,0};

float pF_per_count[NUM_RANGES]=
	{0.2126, 0.772, 2.897, 11.08, 47., 195.3};
float count_for_0pF[NUM_RANGES] =
	{48.7612, 13.82, 3.813, 1.0605, 0.273, 0.0517};

// parameters for calibration
int C_known=0;	// known capacitance value 

void setup() 
{
    pinMode(TOUCH_PIN, INPUT);
    Serial.begin(115200);
    debug=0;
}

void loop()
{
     if (Serial.available())
     {   char c=Serial.read();
         if (c=='D') {debug=1;}
	 else if (c=='d') {debug=0;}
	 else if (c=='a')
         {   // do one reading and print it
             Serial.print(autoCapRead(TOUCH_PIN));
             Serial.println(" pF");
        }
        else if (c=='k')
        {   // set known capacitance for calibration checks
	   C_known=readInt();
        }
	else if (c=='z')
	{   // Set the count_for_0pF array for each range.
	    // Print the current parameters and zero count for each range.
	    // Only issue this command if there is no capacitor connected
	    // to TOUCH_PIN
	    for (int range=0; range<NUM_RANGES; range++)
	    {   uint8_t i_ext=i_ext_choices[range];
	        uint8_t i_ref=i_ref_choices[range];
		count_for_0pF[range] =read_counts_per_cycle(i_ext,i_ref,0.0);
		Serial.print("# zero for ");
		Serial.print(i_ext); Serial.print("\t");
		Serial.print(i_ref); Serial.print("\t");
		Serial.println(count_for_0pF[range],4);
	    }	
	}
	else if (c=='c')
	{   // do autocalibration, setting pF_per_count
	    // printing known capacitance, 
	    //		external current setting,
	    //		reference current setting,
	    //		average pF_per_count for a single cycle
	    
	    if (C_known==0)
	    {   Serial.println("# use 'k<known C in pF>;' first");
	    	return;
	    }
	    for (int range=0; range<NUM_RANGES; range++) { uint8_t i_ext=i_ext_choices[range]; uint8_t i_ref=i_ref_choices[range]; float calib=read_counts_per_cycle(i_ext,i_ref,count_for_0pF[range]); if (!isnan(calib)) { calib = C_known/calib; pF_per_count[range]= calib; } else { Serial.print("# "); // comment out overflows } Serial.print(C_known); Serial.print("\t"); Serial.print(i_ext); Serial.print("\t"); Serial.print(i_ref); Serial.print("\t"); Serial.println(calib,4); } } } } // print a calibration line void print_calib(int count, uint8_t i_ext, uint8_t i_ref, int n_cycles) { float avg_count = (count+0.0)/n_cycles; Serial.print(C_known); Serial.print("\t"); Serial.print(i_ext); Serial.print("\t"); Serial.print(i_ref); Serial.print("\t"); Serial.print(count); Serial.print("\t"); Serial.print(n_cycles); Serial.print("\t"); Serial.println(C_known/avg_count,4); } float read_counts_per_cycle(uint8_t i_ext, uint8_t i_ref, float count_for_zero) { // Do one measurement and return average counts/cycle - count_for_zero. // If debug set, print C_known, count, i_ext, i_ref, n_cycles, cap/count // // Actually does NUM_READS+1 measurements: one with a single cycle, // then again NUM_READS times with as many cycles as can be fit without // overflowing counter. if (debug) { Serial.println("# C\ti_ext\ti_ref\tcount\tn_cycle\tC/avg_count"); } int count=capRead(TOUCH_PIN, i_ext, i_ref, 0, 0); if (count>=0xFFFF)
    {   if (debug)
    	{   Serial.print("# "); // comment out overflows
	    print_calib(count,i_ext,i_ref,1);
	}
	return NAN;	// abort rest of calibration check
    }

    // Determine max number of cycles that can fit
    int cycles= 0xFFFE/count; // how many cycles to use
    int prescale,n_scan;
    for (prescale=0; cycles>32 && prescale<7; prescale++) {cycles/=2;} if (cycles==0) {n_scan=0;} else if (cycles>32) {n_scan=31;}
    else {n_scan=cycles-1;}
    cycles = (n_scan+1)<<prescale;

#define NUM_READS	(20)
    // To do: replace NUM_READS with a const uint8_t num_reads[NUM_RANGES]
    // array, to speed up measurement at high ranges.

    int sum_count=0;
    for (int i=0; i<NUM_READS; i++) { count=capRead(TOUCH_PIN, i_ext, i_ref, prescale, n_scan); if (debug) { print_calib(count, i_ext, i_ref, cycles); } sum_count+=count; } return (sum_count+0.0)/ (NUM_READS*cycles) -count_for_zero; } // Read a non-negative integer from Serial as a series of digits, terminated // by any non-digit (recommend using something obvious like ';'). // The terminating character is discarded. int readInt(void) { int value=0; while (!Serial.available()) {} // wait for next char char c=Serial.read(); while (c>='0' && c<='9')
    {   value= 10*value + (c-'0');
	while (!Serial.available()) {}	// wait for next char
       	c=Serial.read();
    }
    return value;
}
   


float autoCapRead(uint8_t pin)
{
    // Return the capcitance in pF at the pin, using the highest-resolution
    // range that doesn't overflow the counter.
    
    // pick the lowest (highest resolution) range that doesn't overflow
    int32_t count;	// number of counts of ref oscillator
    int range;
    for (range=0, count=0xFFFF;  range<NUM_RANGES && count>=0xFFFF; range++)
    {	count=capRead(pin, i_ext_choices[range],i_ref_choices[range],0,0);
    }
    range--;
    
    if (count>=0xFFFF)
    {    return NAN;	// capacitance too big to measure with TSI
    }
    
    float count_per_cycle=read_counts_per_cycle(i_ext_choices[range],
		i_ref_choices[range],
		count_for_0pF[range]);
    return pF_per_count[range]*count_per_cycle;
}


/* Raw reading is based on the
 * Teensyduino Core Library touch.c (which implements touchRead)
 * http://www.pjrc.com/teensy/
 * Copyright (c) 2013 PJRC.COM, LLC.
 *
 * Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining
 * a copy of this software and associated documentation files (the
 * "Software"), to deal in the Software without restriction, including
 * without limitation the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish,
 * distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Software, and to
 * permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so, subject to
 * the following conditions:
 *
 * 1. The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be 
 * included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software.
 *
 * 2. If the Software is incorporated into a build system that allows 
 * selection among a list of target devices, then similar target
 * devices manufactured by PJRC.COM must be included in the list of
 * target devices and selectable in the same manner.
 *
 * THE SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED "AS IS", WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND,
 * EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO THE WARRANTIES OF
 * MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE AND
 * NONINFRINGEMENT. IN NO EVENT SHALL THE AUTHORS OR COPYRIGHT HOLDERS
 * BE LIABLE FOR ANY CLAIM, DAMAGES OR OTHER LIABILITY, WHETHER IN AN
 * ACTION OF CONTRACT, TORT OR OTHERWISE, ARISING FROM, OUT OF OR IN
 * CONNECTION WITH THE SOFTWARE OR THE USE OR OTHER DEALINGS IN THE
 * SOFTWARE.
 */

// #include "core_pins.h"

// capacitance is supposed to be
//	Cref * (1<<I_ext) / ( (1<<I_ref) * (1<<Prescale) * (N_scan+1) ) * COUNT
// but use 
// Cref * ext_current[I_ext] / ( ref_current[I_ref] * (1<<Prescale) * (N_scan+1) ) * COUNT // because the current ratios are not a constant factor of 2 // with DVOLT==0 (slowest, but least noise sensitive), // I_ext = I_ref-1, // Prescale=2, // N_scan=9, // Capacitance is approx 0.01846 pF * COUNT, // so Cref approx 1.47694pF #if defined(__MK20DX128__) || defined(__MK20DX256__) // These settings give approx 0.02 pF sensitivity and 1200 pF range // Lower current, higher number of scans, and higher prescaler // increase sensitivity, but the trade-off is longer measurement // time and decreased range. static const uint8_t pin2tsi[] = { //0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 9, 10, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 13, 0, 6, 8, 7, 255, 255, 14, 15, 255, 12, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 11, 5 }; #elif defined(__MK66FX1M0__) static const uint8_t pin2tsi[] = { //0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 9, 10, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 13, 0, 6, 8, 7, 255, 255, 14, 15, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 11, 12, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255 }; #elif defined(__MKL26Z64__) static const uint8_t pin2tsi[] = { //0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 9, 10, 255, 2, 3, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 255, 13, 0, 6, 8, 7, 255, 255, 14, 15, 255, 255, 255 }; #endif // for I_ref=I_ext+1, N_scan=9, Prescale=2, output is approx pF * 50 // time to measure 33 pF is approx 0.25 ms // time to measure 1000 pF is approx 4.5 ms int32_t capRead(uint8_t pin, uint8_t I_ext, uint8_t I_ref, uint8_t Prescale, uint8_t N_scan) { uint32_t ch; int32_t count; if (pin >= NUM_DIGITAL_PINS) return 0;
    ch = pin2tsi[pin];
    if (ch == 255) return 0;

    *portConfigRegister(pin) = PORT_PCR_MUX(0);
    SIM_SCGC5 |= SIM_SCGC5_TSI;
#if defined(KINETISK)
    TSI0_GENCS = 0;
    TSI0_PEN = (1 << ch);
    TSI0_SCANC = TSI_SCANC_REFCHRG(I_ref) | TSI_SCANC_EXTCHRG(I_ext);
    TSI0_GENCS = TSI_GENCS_NSCN(N_scan) | TSI_GENCS_PS(Prescale) | TSI_GENCS_TSIEN | TSI_GENCS_SWTS;
    delayMicroseconds(10);
    while (TSI0_GENCS & TSI_GENCS_SCNIP) ; // wait
    delayMicroseconds(1);
    count= *((volatile uint16_t *)(&TSI0_CNTR1) + ch);
#elif defined(KINETISL)
    TSI0_GENCS = TSI_GENCS_REFCHRG(I_ref) | TSI_GENCS_EXTCHRG(I_ext) | TSI_GENCS_PS(Prescale)
	    | TSI_GENCS_NSCN(N_scan) | TSI_GENCS_TSIEN | TSI_GENCS_EOSF;
    TSI0_DATA = TSI_DATA_TSICH(ch) | TSI_DATA_SWTS;
    delayMicroseconds(10);
    while (TSI0_GENCS & TSI_GENCS_SCNIP) ; // wait
    delayMicroseconds(1);
    count= TSI0_DATA & 0xFFFF;
#endif
    if (debug)
    {
	Serial.print("  I_ext= ");  Serial.print(I_ext);
	Serial.print("  I_ref= ");  Serial.print(I_ref);
	Serial.print("  Prescale= ");  Serial.print(Prescale);
	Serial.print("  N_scan= ");  Serial.print(N_scan);
	Serial.print("  count= ");  Serial.print(count);
	Serial.println();
    }
    return count;
}

2015 November 27

Resistor assortment box

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 11:36
Tags: , ,

A few years ago, I bought myself a selection of 1% resistors, like the ones I have my students get in the applied electronics course (from DIYGSM through Amazon, though I have tried other suppliers since then, since UCSC purchasing doesn’t permit ordering through Amazon, even when their prices are the best).  The resistors come in sets of 10 on paper tape (cut from the long rolls used for pick-and-place machines), rubber-banded into bundles of about 50 different sizes.  After a while the rubber-banded bundles started to disintegrate, and I’d gotten quite a collection of loose resistors that were no longer on the tapes, so finding the resistor size I wanted was often a bit of a hassle.

For a while I stored the loose resistors by poking them into a block of foam, roughly sorted by value,  but that was no longer working well—it took too long to find out whether I had a resistor of the size I needed stuck into the foam.  So a couple of weeks ago, I bought a large number of 3″×5″ plastic zippered bags and a 4″×6″ index card box, and sorted the resistors by size into individual bags:

Box with about 120 different sizes of resistors, from 0.5Ω to 5.6MΩ.

Box with about 120 different sizes of resistors, from 0.5Ω to 5.6MΩ.

I was originally planning to use white address labels to put the size values on the bags, but the address labels did not stick to the plastic.  A different sort of label (like the ones sold for marking stuff on freezer bags) might work, but I just used a permanent felt tip mark to write directly on the bags).

I still have about 100 loose resistors to file away, which I’ll probably finish doing today. It takes a while, as I try to confirm each resistance value before filing it: both reading the color code and measuring the resistance with an ohmmeter. My Fluke multimeter is broken, so I’ve been using the DT-9205A multimeter that I reviewed earlier. I found out one reason that multimeter was cheap—one of the probes fell apart within a few weeks of light usage.  I bought myself some more cheap voltmeter probes on AliExpress, which work ok (though who knows how long they will last).  The new probes have very sharp tips, which is handy for probing surface-mount boards, but a bit risky for clumsy people like me—I’ve stuck myself with them a few times by accident.

The DT-9205A meter is rather awkward for reading resistance—it often takes several seconds to settle for a larger resistor, and there is no zero-function to compensate for the resistance of the probes when measuring small resistances.   The ohmmeter is only accurate to about 2% also (a 1kΩ±1% resistor measures at 984Ω on the 2kΩ scale), which is nowhere near as good as the Fluke meter I’m used to, nor the expensive meters at work.

The box and bags is much bulkier than the original rubber-banded bundle (maybe 4 times the volume), so I’m not going to recommend this approach to my students, but I think that it will save me some trouble in future (as well as letting me know when I need to re-order a particular size resistor).

 

2015 June 5

Last day of class for Spring 2015

Filed under: Circuits course,Data acquisition — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 23:31
Tags: , , , , ,

Today was the last day of class, and I covered almost exactly what I proposed in last night’s blog post: one-transistor amplifiers, a review of the goals of the course, and getting suggestions for improvements for next year.

I briefly gave them an intro to NPN transistors (reinforcing the previous mention in the phototransistor lab), telling them that the collector current was basically β times the base-to-emitter current, and that the base-to-emitter junction was a diode.  The diode means that no current flows until the base-to-emitter voltage is at least 0.65V and that thereafter the current grows roughly with the square of the voltage above the threshold.

The first circuit I gave them was a common-emitter circuit with emitter degeneration:

Common emitter with emitter degeneration, which has gain of approximately –Rc/Re

Common emitter with emitter degeneration, which has gain of approximately –Rc/Re

I built the circuit outward from the transistor, first adding the two resistors for the base bias, to make sure that the base voltage was high enough to turn on the transistor, then the DC-blocking capacitor to remove whatever DC bias the input already has. I did not take the time to tell them that the RC time constant is (R_{1}||R_{2}) C_{1}.

I then asserted that V_{E} \approx V_{b} - 0.65V and that I_{c} \approx I_{e} (because β is large, so I_{be} is a small fraction of the current).  But V_{out} = V_{cc} - I_{c} R_{c} \approx V_{cc} - I_{e}R_{c}= V_{cc} - (V_{e}/ R_{e} )R_{c}.  That means that the gain is \frac{d V_{out}}{d V_{in}} \approx - R_{c}/R_{e}.  I said that this design was good for providing high voltage gain, but was not good for providing high current (because R_{c} is large).  I did not give them all the constraints on the components and signal levels needed to make sure that the amplifier works correctly.

I also gave them a common collector circuit:

This common collector circuit is good for high current gain, particularly if Rc is the load that current needs to be delivered to.  I gave the example of a loudspeaker as the load.

This common collector circuit is good for high current gain, particularly if Rc is the load that current needs to be delivered to. I gave the example of a loudspeaker as the load.

The common-collector circuit is even easier to analyze: the emitter voltage follows the base voltage, but about 0.65v lower (hence the common name “emitter-follower” for this circuit), and the current is increased by up to about β.

I explained the difference between class-A, class-B, and class-C amplifiers by giving the clipping one would get on the common-collector amplifier as the DC bias of Vin got lower.  I pointed out that the class A amplifiers were always passing a wasted DC current, but that class-C were very efficient, being on for only a tiny part of the time.  I said that class C amplifiers were mainly used with LC tanks, and gave the analogy of a pendulum that you only gave a little tap at the end of each swing, to keep it swinging back and forth.

I then switched over to the review of the goals:

  • Students passing BME 101L will be able to design simple amplifiers and RC filters for a variety of sensor-interfacing applications.
  • Students passing BME 101L will be able to find and read data sheets for a number of analog electronics parts.
  • Students passing BME 101L will be able to measure signals with multimeters, oscilloscopes, and data-acquisition devices,  plot the data, and fit non-linear models to the data.
  • Students passing BME 101L will be able to write coherent design reports for electronics designs with block diagrams, schematics, and descriptions of design choices made.

Students were in agreement that these goals were mostly met, though they still felt a bit shaky on fitting non-linear models and were aware that there was a lot on the data sheets that they still didn’t understand. I confessed to them that I can’t read everything on most analog data sheets, but that the goal here was to get them to understand the basics of the data sheets (just some of the key parameters).  They felt that they’d gotten at least that far.  I will look into beefing up the presentations in the book and in class on fitting non-linear models, but I think they’re right that many of them have not really mastered that (though some are doing fairly well at it). I didn’t really ask them about their writing skills (an oversight on my part, not a deliberate omission). Many of them have improved their writing, though the average level is still not as high as I’d like to see.

I also checked on some of my subsidiary goals:

  • to turn a few of the students into electronics hobbyists,
  • to encourage a few to declare the bioelectronics concentration of bioengineering, and
  • to teach some tool-using, maker skills (calipers, micrometer, soldering iron, …).

Somewhat surprisingly (and gratifyingly) about a third of the class now wanted to do electronics as a hobby—a topic they had mostly dreaded coming into the class. Only one was planning to the bioelectronics concentration, but a few said that if they were sophomores instead of seniors, they would have chosen bioelectronics. All felt that they had picked up a number of tool-using skills. Because there were a fair number interested in becoming hobbyists, I shared a number of company names that might be good for them to know about, giving a little information about each: Digikey, Mouser, Jameco, Sparkfun, Adafruit Industries, Itead Studio, Seeedstudio, Smart Prototyping, Elecrow, OSH Park, Pololu, Solarbotics, Santa Cruz Electronics, and Frys.  I forgot to mention Idea Fab Labs.

So on the matter of goals (major and minor), I think that the class was fairly successful, but there are still improvements to be made,  and I asked the class for suggestions. Here are a few of the main ones:

  • oscilloscope training. The students did not feel that there was a usable tutorial or reference they could turn to on how to use the oscilloscope (and the Tektronix TDS3054 has pretty confusing controls).  I agree with them on this, and promised to write some material for the book to serve as a tutorial on using oscilloscopes.
  • the sampling and aliasing lab in the first week didn’t mean much to most of them. Again, I agree, and I originally had that lab later in the quarter, after the students had done some work with time-varying signals. I had some difficulty packing all the labs into 10 weeks and having a report due each Friday—I didn’t want to split any 2-part labs over the weekend.  I’ll look into trying a rearrangement of the labs, but I’m not sure how to accomplish that.  Something to think about over the summer. It might be a good idea to talk about aliasing in some of the places where clipping is discussed, though they are rather different phenomena, sharing only the idea that the output data is not really what the input is about.
  • students still felt uncertain of their ability to fit functions (like the power-law fit I asked for in one lab, but never gave them an example of).  I probably need to have some more worked examples in the book, and perhaps some exercises that are in prelabs rather than just in the final design reports.
  • students did not identify any parts or tools that should be removed from the kits, but one suggested that tweezers be added (a good idea, though a finer tip pair of needle-nose pliers might be a better solution). Several felt that fume extractors should be added to the lab—I’ll talk to the lab staff about that for next year.

I also asked students about my idea of removing the soldering of the instrumentation amp board and soldering an audio premap board as well, so that the power amp lab could go faster (and that we could have them test single-transistor class A amplifiers before building the class D amplifier). The students were a bit dubious about this idea, but I think I might try it next year anyway.

Students were more enthusiastic about the idea of my writing variants of each lab to perform at home, without the expensive equipment of the lab.  I’ll try to do that this summer, maybe writing up three versions of some labs: one using only the KL25Z board and a cheap ($10) multimeter, one using those plus a USB oscilloscope (like my Bitscope oscilloscope), and one using the suite of expensive equipment in the lab.  I think that some of the labs will be very challenging with cheap equipment and others will be straightforward.

The loss of the good oscilloscope will probably be most limiting, though with a decent laptop the PteroDAQ data acquisition software can run with a sampling rate of 600Hz for a single channel (the limitation seems to be the program on the laptop keeping up with the USB input so as not to lose a byte and get out of sync).  The old Windows boxes in the lab start dropping bytes even at a 100Hz sampling frequency, but I can go up to 600Hz (but not 650Hz) for a single channel on my MacBook Pro. A newer laptop could probably keep up with a 1kHz sampling rate.  We can do a lot even with the low sampling rate, but it is nice to see somewhat faster signals (like the rise and fall times of the FETs in the power amp lab).

A USB oscilloscope like the Bitscope B10 should be enough for just about all the labs in the course, though I will have to look into how well it does with looking at the rise and fall of the FET gates and drains (without slowing down the waveforms: see Last power-amp lecture for  Bitscope recording of slowed-down transitions and Power amps working for Tektronix images of full-speed transitions). (I did a cursory check tonight, and it looks like even with subsampling it is difficult to get a good view of the gate signal with the Miller plateaus with the Bitscope unless I slow the transitions down.)

My old Fluke 8060A multimeter seems to have died this spring, so I’ll see how much I can do with super cheap hardware-store multimeters.  I think that the impedance characterization of the loudspeaker and electrodes will be the hardest to deal with, but some careful attention to the input impedance of the voltmeter may make even those labs feasible. I’ll probably have to limit the frequency range and use two cheap meters (which I have, and my son has yet another cheap multimeter that I could borrow this summer).

I did mention to the students my idea (borrowed from UCSB) of having students buy their own oscilloscope and voltmeter probes, rather than having to contend with locked down probes that can’t reach the bench or probes broken or stolen by other students. They were lukewarm to the idea—neither endorsing nor embracing it. They’d probably like a cheaper solution, but I don’t know of one as long as EE lets their students into the labs unsupervised (something else I’m trying to get changed, as the EE students do not seem to be willing to follow even simple safety rules, like not bringing open cups of tea and coffee into the lab).

2012 September 9

Supplemental sheet for lab, draft 1

In my previous post, I said that I would post drafts of my supplemental sheets describing the course here on my blog, to get feedback before submitting them. Since I’ve been thinking more about the labs than the lectures, I’ll try writing the sheet for the lab first. It will be based, in part, on my prior list of lab topics, somewhat updated.

Undergraduate Supplemental Sheet
Information to accompany Request for Course Approval
Sponsoring Agency Electrical Engineering
Course #
102L (I need to get a number from the department that they are not currently using. Since we are planning the course as an alternative prerequisite to EE 104 in place of EE101+L, I think that 102 would be a good number, with the L suffix for the lab course.)
Catalog Title
Applied Circuits Lab

Please answer all of the following questions using a separate sheet for your response.
1. Are you proposing a revision to an existing course? If so give the name, number, and GE designations (if applicable) currently held.

This is not a revision to any existing course.

2. In concrete, substantive terms explain how the course will proceed. List the major topics to be covered, preferably by week.

  1. Thermistor lab
    The lab will start with having students learn about the test equipment by having them use the multimeters to measure other multimeters. What is the resistance of a multimeter that is measuring voltage? of one that is measuring current? what current or voltage is used for the resistance measurement? The first lab will then have three parts, all involving the use of a Vishay BC Components NTCLE413E2103F520L thermistor or equivalent.

    First, the students will use a bench multimeter to measure the resistance of the thermistor, dunking it in various water baths (with thermometers in them to measure the temperature). They should fit a simple Ae^{B/T}curve to this data (warning: temperature needs to be on an absolute scale).

    Second, they will add a series resistor to make a voltage divider. They have to choose a value to get as large and linear a voltage response as possible at some specified “most-interesting” temperature (perhaps body temperature, perhaps room temperature, perhaps DNA melting temperature). There will be a pre-lab exercise where they derive the formula for maximizing dV/dT. They will then measure and plot the voltage output for the same set of water baths. If they do it right, they should get a much more linear response than for their resistance measurements.

    Finally, they will hook up the voltage divider to an Arduino analog input and record a time series of a water bath cooling off (perhaps adding an ice cube to warm water to get a fast temperature change), and plot temperature as a function of time.EE concepts needed: voltage, resistance, voltage divider, notion of a transducer.

    Lab skills developed: use of multimeter for measuring resistance and voltage, use of Arduino with data-acquisition program to record a time series, fitting a model to data points, simple breadboarding.

    Equipment needed: multimeter, power supply, thermistor, selection of various resistors, breadboard, clip leads, thermoses for water baths, secondary containment tubs to avoid water spills in the electronics lab. Arduino boards will be part of the student-purchased lab kit (separate from rest of kit, so that students can use Arduinos previously purchased). All uses of the Arduino board assume connection via USB cable to a desktop or laptop computer that has the data logger software that we will provide.

  2. Electret microphone

    First, we will have the students measure and plot the DC current vs. voltage for the microphone. The microphone is normally operated with a 3V drop across it, but can stand up to 10V, so they should be able to set the Agilent E3631A power supply to various values from 0V to 10V and get the voltage and current readings directly from the bench supply, which has 4-place accuracy for both voltage and current. There is some danger of the students accidentally delivering too much voltage and frying the mic, but as long as they get the polarity right, that isn’t too big a hazard. Ideally, they should see that the current is nearly constant as voltage is varied—nothing like a resistor.

    Second, we will have them do current-to-voltage conversion with a 5v power supply to get a 2.5v DC output from the microphone and hook up the output of the microphone to the input of the oscilloscope. Input can be whistling, talking, iPod earpiece, … . They should learn the difference between AC-coupled and DC-coupled inputs to the scope, and how to set the horizontal and vertical scales of the scope.

    Third, we will have them design and wire their own DC blocking RC filter (going down to about 1Hz), and confirm that it has a similar effect to the AC coupling on the scope.

    Fourth, they will play sine waves from the function generator through a loudspeaker next to the mic, observe the voltage output with the scope, and measure the voltage with a multimeter, plotting output voltage as a function of frequency. Note: the specs for the electret mic show a fairly flat response from 50Hz to 3kHz, so most of what the students will see here is the poor response of a cheap speaker at low frequencies.

    Those with extra time could look at putting the speaker and mic at opposite ends of tube and seeing what difference that makes.EE concepts: current sources, AC vs DC, DC blocking by capacitors, RC time constant, sine waves, RMS voltage, properties varying with frequency.

    Lab skills: power supply, oscilloscope, function generator, RMS AC voltage measurement.

    Equipment needed: multimeter, oscilloscope, function generator, power supply, electret microphone, small loudspeaker, selection of various resistors, breadboard, clip leads.

  3. Electrode measurements

    First, we will have the students attempt to measure the resistance of a saline solution using a pair of stainless steel electrodes and a multimeter. This should fail, as the multimeter gradually charges the capacitance of the electrode/electrolyte interface.

    Second, the students will use a voltage divider, with 10–100Ω load resistor and the function generator driving the voltage divider. The students will measure the RMS voltage across the resistor and across the electrodes for different frequencies from 3Hz to 300kHz (the range of the AC measurements for the Agilent 34401A Multimeter). They will plot the magnitude of the impedance of the electrodes as a function of frequency and fit an R2+(R1||C1) model to the data. A little hand tweaking of parameters should help them understand what each parameter changes about the curve.

    Third, the students will repeat the measurements and fits for different concentrations of NaCl, from 0.01M to 1M. Seeing what parameters change a lot and what parameters change only slightly should help them understand the physical basis for the electrical model.

    Fourth, students will make Ag/AgCl electrodes from fine silver wire. The two standard methods for this involve either soaking in chlorine bleach or electroplating. To reduce chemical hazards, we will use the electroplating method. Students will calculate the area of their electrodes and the recommended electroplating current, and adjust the bench supplies to get the desired current.

    Fifth, the students will measure and plot the resistance of a pair of Ag/AgCl electrodes as a function of frequency (as with the stainless steel electrodes).

    Sixth, if there is time, students will measure the potential between a stainless steel electrode and an Ag/AgCl electrode.EE concepts:magnitude of impedance, series and parallel circuits, variation of parameters with frequency, limitations of R+(C||R) model.

    Electrochemistry concepts: At least a vague understanding of half-cell potentials. Ag → Ag+ + e, Ag+ + Cl → AgCl, Fe + 2 Cl→ FeCl2 + 2 e.

    Lab skills: bench power supply, function generator, multimeter, fitting functions of complex numbers, handling liquids in proximity of electronic equipment.

    Equipment needed: multimeter, function generator, power supply, stainless steel electrode pairs, silver wires, frame for mounting silver wire, resistor, breadboard, clip leads, NaCl solutions in different concentrations, beakers for salt water, secondary containment tubs to avoid salt water spills in the electronics lab.

  4. Sampling and Aliasing

    Students will use a PC board that samples and digitizes an input with an 8-bit ADC, then reconstructs the waveform with a DAC. An existing lab has been used in other EE courses for explaining and demonstrating aliasing of sampled signals using this board, a signal generator, and a dual-trace oscilloscope. Note: this is a student-executed demo, rather than a design or measurement lab.EE concepts: quantized time, quantized voltage, sampling frequency, Nyquist frequency, aliasing.

    Lab skills: dual traces on oscilloscope.Equipment needed: ADC/DAC board, dual-trace oscilloscope, function generator.

  5. Audio amplifier

    Students will use an op amp to build a simple non-inverting audio amplifier for an electret microphone, setting the gain to around 6 or 7. Note that we are using single-power-supply op amps, so they will have to design a bias voltage supply as well.If this lab is too short, then students could feed the output of the amplifier into an analog input of the Arduino and record the waveform at the highest sampling rate they can with the software we provide (probably around 300–500 Hz). This would again demonstrate aliasing.EE concepts: op amp, DC bias, bias source with unity-gain amplifier, AC coupling, gain computation.

    Lab skills: complicated breadboarding (enough wires to have problems with messy wiring). If we add the Arduino recording, we could get into interesting problems with buffer overrun if their sampling rate is higher than the Arduino’s USB link can handle.

    Equipment needed: breadboard, op amp chip, assorted resistors and capacitors, electret microphone, Arduino board, optional loudspeaker.

  6. Capacitive touch sensor

    The students will build an op-amp oscillator (a square-wave one, not a sine wave) whose frequency is dependent on the parasitic capacitance of a touch plate, which the students can make from Al foil and plastic food wrap. Students will have to measure the frequency of the oscillator with and without the plate being touched.

    Instead of breadboarding, students will wire this circuit by soldering wires and components on a PC board designed for prototyping op amp and instrumentation amp circuits.
    We will also provide a simple Arduino program that is sensitive to changes in the period of the oscillator and turns an LED on or off, to turn the frequency change into an on/off switch.EE concepts: frequency-dependent feedback, oscillator, RC time constants, parallel capacitors.

    Lab skills: soldering. Frequency measurement with multimeter.

    Equipment needed: Power supply, multimeter, Arduino, clip leads, amplifier prototyping board, oscilloscope.

  7. Phototransistor

    The details of this lab have not been worked out yet. It will probably involve either making a photointerrupter switch or making and characterizing an optoisolater made from an infrared LED and a phototransistor.EE concepts: LEDs and phototransistors (maybe also photodiodes and photoresistors), optoisolators.

    Equipment needed: breadboard, LED, phototransistor, resistors, function generator, oscilloscope, multimeter.

  8. Pressure sensor 1—instrumentation amplifier

    Students will design an instrumentation amplifier with a gain of 300 or 500 to amplify the differential strain-gauge signal from a medical-grade pressure sensor (the Freescale MPX2300DT1), to make a signal large enough to be read with the Arduino A/D converter. The circuit will be soldered on the instrumentation amp/op amp protoboard.The sensor calibration will be checked with water depth in a small reservoir. Note: the pressure sensor comes in a package that exposes the wire bonds and is too delicate for student assembly by novice solderers. We will make a sensor module that protects the sensor and mounts the sensor side to a 3/4″ PVC male-threaded plug, so that it can be easily incorporated into a reservoir, and mounts the electronic side on a PC board with screw terminals for connecting to student circuits.

    EE concepts: differential signals, twisted-pair wiring, strain gauge bridges, instrumentation amplifier, DC coupling, gain.

    Equipment needed: Power supply, amplifier prototyping board, oscilloscope, pressure sensor mounted in PVC plug with breakout board for easy connection, water reservoir made of PVC pipe, secondary containment tub to avoid water spills in electronics lab.

  9. Pressure sensor 2—modeling fluidics with linear circuits
    Students will use the pressure sensors and amplifiers from the previous labs to characterize a pair of water reservoirs connected by a flexible hose. The details of the lab are still being worked out.Students will either induce a step change in pressure in one reservoir and record the step response in each reservoir, or will mount one reservoir on a homemade shaker table driven by a function generator and an audio amplifier.EE concepts: hydraulic analogy, frequency response (both amplitude and phase).

    Equipment needed: Power supply, amplifier prototyping board, oscilloscope, Arduino, pressure sensor mounted in PVC plug with breakout board for easy connection, 2 water reservoirs made of PVC pipe, hose connections, secondary containment tub to avoid water spills in electronics lab, possibly home-made shaker table. Note: the shaker table and power amplifier is the most expensive piece of equipment not already in the lab: it will cost about $50 to build.

  10. Electrocardiogram EKG

    Students will design and solder an instrumentation amplifier with a gain of 2000 and bandpass of about 0.1Hz to 100Hz. The amplifier will be used with 3 disposable EKG electrodes to display EKG signals on the oscilloscope and record them on the Arduino.Equipment needed: Instrumentation amplifier protoboard, EKG electrodes, alligator clips, Arduino, oscilloscope.

3. Systemwide Senate Regulation 760 specifies that 1 academic credit corresponds to 3 hours of work per week for the student in a 10-week quarter. Please briefly explain how the course will lead to sufficient work with reference to e.g., lectures, sections, amount of homework, field trips, etc. [Please note that if significant changes are proposed to the format of the course after its initial approval, you will need to submit new course approval paperwork to answer this question in light of the new course format.]

This is a 2-unit course. Three hours a week will be spent in scheduled labs, another 3 hours a week in pre-lab design activity and post-lab write-ups.

4. Include a complete reading list or its equivalent in other media.

Wikipedia book: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Kevin_k/Books/applied_circuits
Because no existing textbook covers all the material of the course, collection of relevant Wikipedia articles has been made that covers all the major topics. The book is available online for free, but students can purchase a printed and bound version (about 350 pages), if they want. Some of the Wikipedia articles contain more detail than is needed for the course, but about 90% of the content is relevant and will be required.

Data sheets: Students will be required to find and read data sheets for each of the components that they use in the lab.

Op amps for everyone by Ron Mancini http://www.e-booksdirectory.com/details.php?ebook=1469 Chapters 1–6 This free book duplicates some of the material in the Wikipedia book, but provides more detail and a cleaner presentation of some of the op-amp material.

Op Amp Applications Handbook by Analog Devices http://www.analog.com/library/analogDialogue/archives/39-05/op_amp_applications_handbook.html has some useful material, particularly in Sections 1-1 and 1-4, but is generally too advanced for a first circuits course. Readings in this book will be optional for the more advanced students.

The classic book The Art of Electronics by Horowitz and Hill has one of the best presentations of op amps in Chapter 4. Chapters 1 and 4, and parts of Chapters 5 and 7 are relevant to this course. Unfortunately, the book is now 23 years old and much of the description of specific chips is obsolete, but the book is still quite expensive. We will provide page and section numbers for optional readings in this book that correspond to the readings in the main texts, but not require this book.

5. State the basis on which evaluation of individual students’ achievements in this course will be made by the instructor (e.g., class participation, examinations, papers, projects).

Students will be evaluated on in-lab demonstrations of skills and on the lab write-ups.

6. List other UCSC courses covering similar material, if known.

EE 101L covers some of the same basic electronic lab skills, but without the focus on sensors or design, and without instrumentation amps.

Physics 160 offers a similar level of practical electronics, but focuses on physics applications, rather than on bioengineering applications, and is only offered in alternate years.

7. List expected resource requirements including course support and specialized facilities or equipment for divisional review. (This information must also be reported to the scheduling office each quarter the course is offered.)

The course will need the equipment of a standard analog electronics teaching lab: power supply, multimeter, function generator,  oscilloscope, and computer plus soldering irons. The equipment in Baskin Engineering 150 (used for EE 101L) is ideally suited for this lab. There are 24 stations in the lab, but only 12 function generators. Adding a dozen $300 function generators would make all 24 stations simultaneously usable, but the lab could be run with only half the stations, if all labs requiring function generators are done only with student pairs rather than individuals.

In addition, a few special-purpose setups will be needed for some of the labs. The special-purpose equipment was designed to be easily constructed with simple tools and to cost around $50/setup. One of the teachers is prototyping all the lab setups at home, to make sure that they can be effectively made within budget without expensive parts or much shop time.

There are a number of consumable parts used for the labs (integrated circuits, resistors, capacitors, PC boards, wire, and so forth), but these are easily covered by standard School of Engineering lab fees.

The course requires a faculty member (simultaneously teaching the co-requisite Applied Circuits course) and a teaching assistant (for providing help in the labs and for evaluating student lab demonstrations).

8. If applicable, justify any pre-requisites or enrollment restrictions proposed for this course. For pre-requisites sponsored by other departments/programs, please provide evidence of consultation.

Students will be required to have single-variable calculus and a physics electricity and magnetism course. Both are standard prerequisites for any circuits course. Although DC circuits can be analyzed without calculus, differentiation and integration are fundamental to AC analysis. Students should have already been introduced to the ideas of capacitors and inductors.

9. Proposals for new or revised Disciplinary Communication courses will be considered within the context of the approved DC plan for the relevant major(s). If applicable, please complete and submit the new proposal form (http://reg.ucsc.edu/forms/DC_statement_form.doc or http://reg.ucsc.edu/forms/DC_statement_form.pdf) or the revisions to approved plans form (http://reg.ucsc.edu/forms/DC_approval_revision.doc or http://reg.ucsc.edu/forms/DC_approval_revision.pdf).

This course is not expected to contribute to any major’s disciplinary communication requirement.

10. If you are requesting a GE designation for the proposed course, please justify your request making reference to the attached guidelines.

No General Education code is proposed for this course, as all relevant codes will have already been satisfied by the prerequisites.

11. If this is a new course and you requesting a new GE, do you think an old GE designation(s) is also appropriate? (CEP would like to maintain as many old GE offerings as is possible for the time being.)

No General Education code is proposed for this course, as all relevant codes (old or new) will have already been satisfied by the prerequisites.

2012 August 16

Order and topics for labs

I had a good discussion with Steve P. this afternoon about the order and purpose of the labs I’ve designed so far.  He’ll be putting together a list of EE topics we have to cover to coordinate with the labs, so that students will have enough theory to do each lab, but not be overwhelmed with theory that they don’t yet have a use for.

I’ve designed the labs mainly around the interests of bioengineering majors, but I’ve tried to keep in mind other possible students, such as Digital Arts and New Media students, who would be interested in practical sensor circuits for interfacing to art projects (particularly for inputs to Arduino microprocessors).  I’ve been gathering pointers to  all my notes at Circuits course Table of Contents, but I’ve referred to about half the posts with the associated labs here.

Lab 1: thermistor

See posts

  1. More musings on circuits course: temperature lab
  2. Temperature lab, part2
  3. Temperature lab, part 3: voltage divider

The first lab will consist of 3 parts, all involving the use of a Vishay BC Components NTCLE413E2103F520L thermistor.

First, the students would use a bench multimeter to measure the resistance of the thermistor, dunking it in various water baths (with thermometers in them to measure the temperature).  They should fit a simple Ae^{B/T} curve to this data (warning: temperature needs to be on an absolute scale).

Second, they would add a series resistor to make a voltage divider. They have to choose a value to get as large and linear a voltage response as possible at some specified “most-interesting” temperature (perhaps body temperature, perhaps room temperature, perhaps DNA melting temperature).  There should probably be a pre-lab exercise where they derive the formula for maximizing dV/dT. They would then measure and plot the voltage output for the same set of water baths. If they do it right, they should get a much more linear response than for their resistance measurements.

Finally, they would hook up the voltage divider to an Arduino analog input and record a time series of a water bath cooling off (perhaps adding an ice cube to warm water to get a fast temperature change), and plot temperature as a function of time.

EE concepts needed: voltage, resistance, voltage divider, notion of a transducer.

Lab skills developed: use of multimeter for measuring resistance and voltage, use of Arduino with data-acquisition program to record a time series, fitting a model to data points, simple breadboarding.

Note:  Mylène suggested that we start student familiarization with the test equipment by having them use the multimeters to measure other multimeters.  What is the resistance of a multimeter that is measuring voltage?  of one that is measuring current? what current or voltage is used for the resistance measurement?  We might want to do this first.

 Lab 2: electret microphone

See posts

  1. Oscilloscope practice lab
  2. Op-amp lab

Mylène suggested that we start oscilloscope familiarity by looking at the output of power supplies. What ripple can you see on the voltage output of a benchtop supply? of a cheap wall wart?  This requires the students to learn the difference between DC and AC input coupling for oscilloscopes.  I think that we may be able to teach what we need here without measuring the power supplies, though that is a good backup plan.

First, we would have the students measure and plot the DC current vs. voltage for the microphone.  The microphone is normally operated with a 3V drop across it, but can stand up to 10V, so they should be able to set the Agilent E3631A power supply to various values from 0V to 10V and get the voltage and current readings directly from the bench supply, which has 4-place accuracy for both voltage and current.  There is some danger of the students accidentally delivering too much voltage and frying the mic, but as long as they get the polarity right, that isn’t too big a hazard.  Ideally, they should see that the current is nearly constant as voltage is varied—nothing like a resistor.

Second, we would have them do current-to-voltage conversion with a 5v power supply to get a 2.5v DC output and hook up the output of the microphone to the input of the oscilloscope.  Input can be whistling, talking, iPod earpiece, … . They should learn the difference between AC coupled and DC coupled inputs to the scope, and how to set the horizontal and vertical scales of the scope.

Third, we would have them design and wire their own DC blocking filter (going down to about 1Hz), and confirm that it has a similar effect to the AC coupling on the scope.

Fourth, they should play sine waves from the function generator through a loudspeaker next to the mic, observe the voltage output with the scope, and measure the voltage with a multimeter, plotting output voltage as a function of frequency.  Note: the specs for the electret mic show a fairly flat response from 50Hz to 3kHz, so most of what the students will see here is the poor response of a cheap speaker at low frequencies.  Those with extra time could look at putting the speaker and mic at opposite ends of tube and seeing what difference that makes.

EE concepts: current sources, AC vs DC, DC blocking by capacitors, RC time constant, sine waves, RMS voltage, properties varying with frequency.

Lab skills: power supply, oscilloscope, function generator, RMS AC voltage measurement.

Lab 3: electrode measurements

See posts

  1. Trying to measure ionic current through small holes
  2. Conductivity of saline solution
  3. On stainless steel
  4. Better measurement of conductivity of saline solution
  5. Measuring Ag/AgCl electrodes

First, we would have the students attempt to measure the resistance of a saline solution using a pair of stainless steel electrodes and a multimeter.  This should fail, as the multimeter gradually charges the capacitance of the electrode/electrolyte interface.  For the safety of the lab equipment, we should have the beakers with salt water in a secondary containment tray at all times.

Second, the students should again use a voltage divider, with 10–100Ω load resistor, but with the function generator driving the voltage divider.  The students should measure the RMS voltage across the resistor and across the electrodes for different frequencies from 3Hz to 300kHz (the range of the AC measurements for the Agilent 34401A Multimeter).  They should plot the magnitude of the impedance of the electrodes as a function of frequency and fit an R2+(R1||C1) model to the data.  A little hand tweaking of parameters should help them understand what each parameter changes about the curve.

Third, the students should repeat the measurements and fits for different concentrations of NaCl (we’ll have to get a liter or so of each stock solution made up by one of the wet labs).  Seeing what parameters change a lot and what parameters change only slightly should help them understand the physical basis for the electrical model.

Fourth, students should make Ag/AgCl electrodes from fine silver wire. To avoid possible problems with Clorox in the lab, we’ll probably have them electroplate in NaCl solutions.  If their electrodes have an area of about 0.8 cm2 (2.5cm of 18 gauge wire with a diameter of 1.024mm), we can electroplate at the recommended current density of 1mA/cm2 (so 0.8mA) in 0.9% (0.16M) NaCl for a minute, reversing polarity occasionally to improve the chloride coat. The instructions I’ve seen vary a lot, so neither the salt concentration nor the current density seem to be particularly critical values. We could provide a constant-current supply, but we can probably get by with just having them use a bench supply and adjust the voltage manually to keep the current around 1mA, using visual feedback to terminate the process. (Some instructions just call for using a 9v battery and a whole coil of silver wire.)  According to Warner Instruments

The color of a well plated electrode will be light gray to a purplish gray. While plating, occasionally reversing the polarity for several seconds tends to deepen the chloride coating and yield a more stable electrode.

Fifth, the students should measure and plot the resistance of a pair of Ag/AgCl electrodes as a function of frequency (as with the stainless steel electrodes). We’ll have to think of an easy way for them to mount their electrodes so that they don’t move and so that the silver-copper interface is not near the salt water.

Sixth, if there is time, measuring the potential between a stainless steel electrode and an Ag/AgCl electrode.

EE concepts: impedance, series and parallel circuits, variation of parameters with frequency.

Electrochemistry concepts: At least a vague understanding of half-cell potentials. Ag → Ag+ + e,  Ag+ + Cl → AgCl.

Lab skills: bench power supply, function generator, multimeter, fitting functions of complex numbers, handling liquids in proximity of electronic equipment.

Lab 4: Sampling and aliasing

I don’t know the details of this lab, but Steve P. has a PC board that samples and digitizes an input with an 8-bit ADC, then reconstructs the waveform with a DAC.  He has worked out a lab for explaining and demonstrating aliasing of sampled signals using this board, a signal generator, and a dual-trace oscilloscope.  I’ll have to borrow the board and the lab handout from him to see if there is anything in the lab I’d want to tweak.

EE concepts: quantized time, quantized voltage, sampling frequency, Nyquist frequency, aliasing.

Lab skills: dual traces on oscilloscope.

Lab 5: Op amp basics

See post Op-amp lab

Use an op amp to build a simple non-inverting audio amplifier for an electret microphone, setting the gain to around 6 or 7.  Note that we are using single-power-supply op amps.

If this lab is too short, then students could feed the output of the amplifier into an analog input of the Arduino and record the waveform at the highest sampling rate they can with the software we provide (probably around 300–500 Hz).  This would again demonstrate aliasing.

EE concepts: op amp, DC bias, bias source with unity-gain amplifier, AC coupling, gain computation.

Lab skills: complicated breadboarding (enough wires to have problems with messy wiring). If we add the Arduino recording, we could get into interesting problems with buffer overrun if their sampling rate is higher than the Arduino’s USB link can handle.

Lab 6: capacitive touch sensor

See posts

  1. Capacitive sensing
  2. Capacitive sensing, part 2
  3. Capacitive sensing with op amps
  4. Capacitive sensing with op amps, continued

The students would build an op-amp oscillator (a square-wave one, not a sine wave) whose frequency is dependent on the parasitic capacitance of a touch plate, which the students can make from Al foil and plastic food wrap. Students would have to measure the frequency of the oscillator with and without the plate being touched.

We can provide a simple Arduino program that is sensitive to changes in the period of the oscillator (see example in Capacitive sensing with op amps, continued) and turns an LED on or off.

EE concepts: frequency-dependent feedback, oscillator, RC time constants, parallel capacitors.

Lab skills: more messy breadboarding.  Frequency measurement.

Lab 7: Phototransistor

See posts

  1. Phototransistor
  2. Synchronous demodulator
  3. Pulse detection with light
  4. Giving up on light-based pulse sensor
  5. Looking at bioengineering measurements courses
  6. Random thoughts on circuits labs

Since optical detection is such an important part of many biomolecular lab techniques, I really want to do something with an LED and phototransistor (or CdS cell or photodiode), but so far none of my ideas have worked out.  I have a nice Fairchild QRE1113 reflectance sensor that uses a matched 940nm wavelength LED and phototransistor, which I’ve used a tachometer for motors for the robotics club. Unfortunately, a tachometer is more appropriate for a mechatronics lab than a biengineering circuits course.

I thought that I might be able to use it to measure arterial pulses by reflection, but I don’t seem to get a signal at my heart rate (I did better with the uncomfortable ear clip).

The reflectance sensor is good for measuring finger tremor if you hold a finger close to (but not touching) the sensor.  The effect is optical, not capacitive coupling, since the signal is stronger if a non-conducting white piece of paper is held near the sensor rather than a finger.  The reflectance sensor is remarkably insensitive to ambient light, though shining a laser pointer on the sensor is easily detected.

We can easily do labs involving interrupting light beams, but there isn’t much “circuit” stuff for the simple ones and not much “bio” stuff either.  We could up the circuit content (perhaps too much) by modulating the light beam and using a synchronous demodulator to detect the beam even in the presence of high ambient light.

I still need to find something that is feasible and somehow related to bioengineering.  This needs more thought.

Lab 8: No idea

I’m still missing a lab.  I’ve not done anything with position, pressure, or volume sensing yet.  Of course, it is possible that some of the earlier labs will take longer than I think, and we’ll need to slip the schedule anyway.  The EKG lab looks pretty packed, so may be some portion of that could be foreshadowed here.  Perhaps bandpass filtering and characterizing a simple filter?  That would be useful, but rather boring.

Maybe an electronic music lab of some sort would be fun here?

Labs 9 and 10: EKG

See posts

  1. EMG and EKG works
  2. Two-stage EKG
  3. EKG recording working
  4. More thoughts on EKG
  5. EKG blinky
  6. Instrumentation amp protoboard
  7. Instrumentation amp protoboard rev2.1
  8. EKG blinky boards arrived
  9. EKG blinky boards work
  10. Instrumentation amp prototyping boards arrived
  11. Better electrode placement for EKG blinky

and page EKG blinky parts list and assembly instructions.

The electrocardiogram will be the final project for the course, and I think it will take two full lab sessions. The first lab session would consist of soldering up the instrumentation amp protoboard, checking for opens and shorts, and designing and characterizing a differential amplifier with a gain of 2000 (perhaps an adjustable gain of 500–4000?) including AC coupling between stages to eliminate problems with DC offset saturating later stages.  The amplifier should have a bandwidth of about 0.01Hz–150Hz.

The second one would be and making a twisted-wire harness with alligator clips to attach to the EKG electrodes, connecting the amplifier to the electrodes, debugging the student-designed EKG amplifiers, and adjusting the gain.  I suspect that a few students will get a design that works in the first week, but that a lot of students will be doing a lot of unsoldering and resoldering as they find bugs in their design, hence the need for 2 weeks in the lab.

Student check out will require that they be able to blink an LED in time with their heart beat, display the EKG waveform on the oscilloscope, and record a minute of EKG signal at 200 samples/second using the Arduino, all without adjusting their board between demos.

EE concepts: biopotentials, instrumentation amplifier, common-mode signal, differential signal, twisted pair wiring, grounding to avoid common-mode signal saturating an instrumentation amplifier, Ac coupling, simple bandpass filtering.

Lab skills: soldering.

Summary

I have a pretty clear idea how I think the lab part of the course should start and how it should end, but there are a couple of weeks just before the end that are still a bit vague.  Perhaps as Steve starts aligning the EE topics with the labs he can identify some topics that need a lab exercise to clarify them.  Maybe some of my blog readers (those who haven’t deserted me during this long process of designing a course) can make some more suggestions—even repeating some old suggestions would not be a bad idea now, as I need a creative kick.

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