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Video: The Lowly Diode — Umpteen Functions with Only Two Pins

 

The lowly diode, a device with only two leads, can nonetheless do many things. Diodes can detect, rectify, suppress, emit light, detect light, change capacitance, emit microwaves and more. This wide range of use means diodes are included in almost every design and it’s well worth learning more about the inner workings of all kinds of diodes.

My introduction to diodes started like many of my generation with a homemade crystal radio set. My first diode was a piece of pencil graphite in contact with an old fashion safety razor with the joint of the two dissimilar materials — graphite and steel — creating the diode. In this configuration the diode is said to be “detecting” which is the act of turning a weak radio signal into a weak audio signal. At least in my home town of Marion Indiana, one radio station was stronger than the other so that I didn’t have to listen to two stations at once.

Germanium Glass Diode

The venerable 1N34A Germanium Signal Diode.

I eventually learned about “real” diodes and the 1N34A Germanium diode was my “goto” diode into my teens. Nowadays looking into a modern version of the 1N34A you can still see the semblance of the old “cat’s whisker” by looking carefully into the diode.

A quick and somewhat inaccurate semblance of the way a diode works can be demonstrated with marbles and jacks representing negative electrons and positive “holes”. Holes are basically an atom missing an electron due to the combination of elements, a process known as doping. Join me after the break for the explanation.

Demonstrating a PN Junction with marbles and Jacks.

Demonstrating a PN Junction with marbles and Jacks.

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Beginner Concepts: Powering your projects

Powering your gadgets generally seems like a necessary evil. To help with this [Felipe La Rotta] made a really nice bench power supply using a PC power supply and a LM317 adjustable voltage regulator. PC power supplies are an example of a switched power supply(more on that later).  The LM317 is a type of linear voltage regulator that allows for adjusting the output voltage by varying some resistors. Whats the best way to power your circuits? well that depends…

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Tiny USB business card

[Frank Zhao] put together a USB business card. It’s even got the instructions printed right on the silk screen of the PCB explaining how it should be used. He based the design around an AVR ATtiny85 microcontroller. It runs the V-USB package that handles USB identification and communication protocols. The rest of the hardware is pretty standard, the uC draws power from the 5V USB rail, with a couple of 3.6V Zener diodes to drop the two data lines down to the proper level.

Once plugged in it waits until it detects three caps lock keypresses in a row, then spews a string of its own keypresses that type out [Frank's] contact information in a text editor window (video after the break). It’s not as reusable as the mass storage business card because [Frank] didn’t breakout the pins on controller. But we still enjoy seeing business cards that make you stand out.

This is a great project to tackle with your newly acquired AVR programming skills.

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