Better Image Capture for your Scanning Electron Microscope

When you’ve got a scanning electron microscope sitting around, you’re going to find ways to push the awesome envelope. [Ben Krasnow] is upping his SEM game with a new rig to improve image capture (video link) and more easily create animated GIFs and videos.

The color scheme of the SEM housing gives away its 80s vintage, and the height of image capture technology back then was a Polaroid camera mounted over the instrument’s CRT. No other video output was provided, so [Ben] dug into the blueprints and probed around till he found the high-resolution slow scan signal. To make his Teensy-LC happy, he used a few op-amps to condition the analog signal and split out the digital sync signals, which he fed into the analog and digital ports respectively. [Ben] then goes into a great deal of useful detail on how he got the video data encoded and sent over USB for frame capture and GIF generation.

It’s clearly a work in progress by [Ben]’s own admission, but it’s still really exciting. His previous animations of a stylus in a vinyl record groove were great to watch but laborious for him to produce. Here’s hoping that lowering the effort needed to make these animations will result in more of them.

How to Build a Thermocouple Amplifier

A Thermocouple is a terrific way to measure temperature. The effects of temperature change on dissimilar metals produces a measurable voltage. But to make that measurement you need an amplifier circuit designed for the thermocouple being used.

Linear Technology LTC 1049 Low Power Zero-Drift Operational Amplifier with Internal Capacitors
Linear Technology LTC 1049 Low Power Zero-Drift Operational Amplifier
with Internal Capacitors

While researching “Zero Drift Amplifiers” as a follow-up to my video on Instrumentation Amplifiers I noticed the little schematic the front page of the LTC1049 datasheet which is shown here. I thought it was an ideal example of an analog application where some gain and some “gain helper” were needed to accomplish our useful little application of amplifying a thermocouple probe.

In the video I don’t really talk much about the thermocouples themselves other than the type I see most of the time which is type K. If you’re not already familiar with the construction of these probes you can find an informative write-up on thermocouples and the different types on the Wikipedia page and you might also want to check out the Analog Devices app note if you would like to know more. What I will cover is a reliable and precise way to read from these probes, seen in the video below and the remainder of the post after the break.

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The Modular Bench Power Supply To Rule Them All

Right now, [The Big One] is using an ATX power supply as a bench power supply for all his electronics projects. It works, but it’s not ideal. The next step up from a power supply from an old computer is, in order, one of those Chinese deals on Amazon, a used HP supply, or for the very cool people among us, building your own. [The Big One] is very, very cool and he’s building the modular bench supply to rule them all.

This is not your $100 china special power supply that [The Big One] would have to buy again in a few months. Inside this massive power supply is a massive transformer and rectifier that fans out to multiple power supply modules. The modules themselves will be based on an OPA548 that will be able to supply up to 3A with current limiting.

Each of these channels will be controlled by an ATMega32u4, with all the fancy stuff you’d expect from the ultimate supply; USB for setting voltage, current, and logging data, a nice LCD character display, and it’s surprisingly cheap; just about $100 for the transformer, and about $50 for each module.

It’s shaping up to be a great build, and with all the features, a power supply that would also make a great kit. If you have any input you’d like [The Big One] to hear, let him know on the project page.

Bil Herd: Computing with Analog

When I was young the first “computer” I ever owned was an analog computer built from a kit. It had a sloped plastic case which had three knobs with large numerical scales around them and a small center-null meter. To operate it I would dial in two numbers as indicated by the scales and then adjust the “answer” by rotating the third dial until the little meter centered. Underneath there was a small handful of components wired on a terminal strip including two or three transistors.

Science Fair Analog Computer
Science Fair Analog Computer

In thinking back about that relic from the early 1970’s there was a moment when I assumed they may have been using the transistors as logarithmic amplifiers meaning that it was able to multiply electronically. After a few minutes of thought I came to the conclusion that it was probably much simpler and was most likely a Wheatstone Bridge. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t multiply, it was probably the printed scales that were logarithmic, much like a slide rule.

Analog slide rule on digital calculator
Old meets new: Analog and digital computation

Did someone just ask what a slide rule was? Let me explain further for anyone under 50. If you watch the video footage or movies about the Apollo Space Program you won’t see any anyone carrying a hand calculator, they didn’t exist yet. Yet the navigation guys in the first row of Mission Control known aptly as “the trench”, could quickly calculate a position or vector to within a couple of decimal places, and they did it using sliding piece of bamboo or aluminum with numbers printed on them.

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Analog Drum Machine

Drum Machine Schematic

This analog drum machine project synthesizes a kick and snare drum that are clocked to a beat. It pulls together a few analog circuits to do the timing and synthesis.

The beat timing is a product of a hysteretic oscillator used to create a ‘shark wave,’ which is a friendly term for the output of a relaxation oscillator. This waveform can be compared to a set point using a comparator to create a slow square wave that clocks the drum beat.

The kick drum is synthesized using another hysteretic oscillator, but at a higher frequency, creating a triangle-like waveform at 265 Hz that provides a bass sound. The snare, however, uses white noise provided by a BJT’s P-N junction, which is reverse biased and then amplified. You can spot this transistor because its collector is not connected.

The resulting snare and kick drum wave forms are gated by two transistors into the output. Controlling these gates allows the user to create a drum beat. After the break, check out a video walk-through and a demo of the build.

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Pulse Oximeter from LM324, LED, and Photodiode

This pulse oximeter is so simple and cheap to build it’s almost criminal. The most obvious way to monitor the output of the sensor is to use an oscilloscope. The poor-man’s stand-in for that is a sound card, which is what [Scott Harden] demonstrates in his write-up.

It uses a concept we’ve seen a few times before. The light from an LED shines through your finger and is measured on the other side by a phototransistor. It’s that light grey plastic thing you see on a patient’s finger when they’re in the hospital. [Scott] went with a common wooden clothes pin as a way to mount and align the sensor with your finger. It is monitored by the simplest of circuits which uses just one chip: an LM324 op-amp. There are three basic stages which he explains well in the video after the jump. The incoming signal is decoupled before being fed to the first amplifier stage. From there it is fed to an adjustable low-pass filter to help eliminate 60Hz noise from AC power in the room. The last stage amplifies the signal again while using another low-pass filter in parallel.

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Understanding op-amps from simple to hard

[Tim] wanted to help out a ECE student struggling with some Op-Amp problems. He put together a video which does a good job of explaining what an Op-Amp does, then tackles each of the questions one at a time.

His analogy is illustrated in this image. There’s an operator using a crane to lift a crate. He is watching a ‘radio man’ in a window of the building to know how high it should be lifted. These roles are translated to the function of an Op-Amp in a way that makes understanding the common parts quite easy. The crane is the Op-Amp and the floor to which it is trying to lift the crate is the input pin. The current height of the crate is the output signal. The radio man is the feedback resistor which is trying to get the desired height and current height to equal each other. Watch the video after the break and all becomes clear.

After this analogy is explained [Tim] tackles the actual homework problems. He’s going through everything pretty quickly, and doesn’t actually give the answers. What he does is show how this — like most circuit solving problems — depends on how you group the components in order to simplify the questions. Grab a pen and paper and put on your electron theory hats to see if you can solve the questions for yourselves.

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