Circuit VR: Resistance Measurement With Four Wires

If you want to measure resistance and you know Ohm’s law, it seems like you have an easy answer, right? Feed a known current through the thing you want to measure and read the voltage required. A little math, and that’s it. Or is it? If you are measuring reasonably large resistance and you don’t mind small inaccuracies, sure. But for tiny measurements or highly accurate measurements, you’d be better off using the four-wire method. What’s more is, understanding why you want to use the four-wire method is a great example of using an understanding of electronics to find solutions to problems.
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Your Own Milliohm Meter

We like to pretend that wires are perfect all the time. For the most part that’s acceptable, but sometimes you really do care about those tiny fractional ohm quantities. Unfortunately though, most meters won’t read very low values. There are tricks you can use to achieve that aim, such as measuring low currents through a device with a known voltage applied. It is handier though to have an instrument to make the reading directly, and [Kasyan TV] did just that with a surprisingly low part count.

The whole thing is built from an LM317, a resistor, and a voltmeter module, that’s it. [Kasyan] mentions the meter’s accuracy means the lower digits are not meaningful, but it looks to us as though there are other sources of error — for example, there’s no way to zero out the probe’s resistance except during the initial calibration. Continue reading “Your Own Milliohm Meter”

Always Have A Square To Spare

Some aspects of humanity affect all of us at some point in our lives. Whether it’s getting caught in the rain without an umbrella, getting a flat tire on the way to work, or upgrading a Linux package which somehow breaks the entire installation, some experiences are truly universal. Among these is pulling a few squares of toilet paper off the roll, only to have the entire roll unravel with an overly aggressive pull. It’s possible to employ a little technology so that none of us have to go through this hassle again, though.

[William Holden] and [Eric Strebel] have decided to tackle this problem with an innovative bearing of sorts that replaces a typical toilet paper holder. Embedded in the mechanism is a set of magnetic discs which provide a higher resistance than a normal roll holder would. Slowly pulling out squares of paper is possible, but like a non-Newtonian fluid becomes solid when a higher force is applied, the magnets will provide enough resistance when a higher speed tug is performed on the toilet paper. This causes the paper to tear rather than unspool the whole roll, and also allows the user to operate the toilet paper one-handed.

This is a great solution to a problem we’ve all faced but probably forgot about a minute after we experienced it. And, it also holds your cell phone to keep it from falling in the toilet! If you’d like to check out their Kickstarter, they are trying to raise money to bring the product to market. And, if you want to upgrade your toilet paper dispenser even further, there’s also an IoT device for it as well, of course.

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Measure Resistance The Colourful Way

One of the first things anyone with an interest in electronics learns is the resistor colour code. The colour of the first band reveals the first figure, the second the subsequent figure, and the third a power-of-ten multiplier. At first you learn these colours, but eventually you just recognise the values through familiarity. You don’t have to think about multipliers when you see orange-orange-red, you just know that it’s a 3K3 resistor.

[Plusea] has come up with an entertaining interface for an ohmmeter, which instead of displaying the resistance on an LCD or a meter shows it as the colours of the code, via a set of addressable LEDs. The work is done by an ATtiny85 microcontroller, and the whole thing is mounted on a flexible PCB (fabrication of which is itself interesting, placing cut copper traces on a sheet of kapton and covering with a second kapton layer cut to be the solder mask). There is even a clever integration of a CR2032 battery holder from the PCB itself, though they admit that it could be made more compact with the use of SMD components instead of through-hole.

The write-up and associated photo album tells us a lot about the project, but is missing a crucial detail: a shot of it working. We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on that front though, because we like the idea and its execution.

Strangely, this isn’t the first ohmmeter to use the resistor colour code in this way, we’ve previously brought you one featuring a light-up giant resistor.

Standard Resistor Teardowns

What do you do, when you want an ohm? What is an ohm, for that matter? Take a wander over to the textbook definitions, and you’re soon deep in a world of coulombs and parallel infinite planes one meter apart in a vacuum that you probably only half remember from your high school physics class. It’s hard work, this metrology lark.

Of course, you can just order a resistor. A few cents each when you’re buying small quantities or much less when you’re buying a reel of five thousand, and there you have it. An ohm. Only it’s not really an ohm, more like nearly an ohm. Within 1% of an ohm is pretty good, but Vishay or Bourns or whoever don’t have the margins to get philosophical about those infinite planes when you’re only giving them a few cents.

When you REALLY want an ohm, you buy a standard resistor, and you pay a more significant sum. You’re never going to wire one of these up to bias a transistor or drive an LED, instead it’s about as close as it’s possible to get on your bench to the value it says on the box and you can use it for calibration purposes. PPM figures well in excess of the resolution of even superior DMMs sound pretty good to us!

[Zlymex] was curious about standard resistors, so performed a teardown of a few to see what they contain. And after a pithy explanation of the terms involved he’s managed to look inside quite a few of them.

Inside he finds hermetically sealed wire-wound resistors, some oil-filled wire-wound resistors, and the occasional hefty piece of manganin. He also tears down some of the hermetically sealed resistors themselves, finding both wire-wound and foil resistance elements within.

It is a curious obsession that permeates hacker culture, that of standard measurements, and it’s one we’ve covered quite a few times here. Time enthusiasts with atomic clocks like this rather beautiful discrete logic build, or voltage enthusiasts with their temperature compensated references or programmable standards. Surprisingly though, this appears to be the first time we’ve looked at standard resistors.

Thanks [David Gustafik] for the tip.

How Biohackers Are Fighting A Two-front War On Antibiotic Resistance

We humans like to think of ourselves as the pinnacle of evolution on the planet, but that’s just a conceit. It takes humans roughly twenty years to reproduce, whereas some bacteria can make copies of themselves every 20 minutes. Countless generations of bacteria have honed and perfected their genomes into extremely evolved biological machines.

Most bacteria are harmless, and some are quite useful, even tasty – witness the lactofermented pickles and sauerkraut I made this summer. But some bacteria are pathogenic nightmares that have swarmed over the planet and caused untold misery and billions of deaths. For most of human history it has been so – the bugs were winning. Then a bright period dawned in the early 20th century – the Era of Antibiotics. At last we were delivered from the threat of pestilence, never more to suffer from plague and disease like our unfortunate ancestors. Infections were miraculously cured with a simple injection or pill, childhood diseases were no longer reaping their tragic harvest, and soldiers on the battlefield were surviving wounds that would have festered and led to a slow, painful death.

Now it seems like this bright spot of relief from bacterial disease might be drawing to an end. Resistant strains of bacteria are in the news these days, and the rise of superbugs seems inevitable. But is it? Have we run out of tools to fight back? Not quite yet as it turns out. But there’s a lot of work to do to make sure we win this battle.

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Digital Decade Resistance Box On The Cheap

[Stynus] has finished a unique decade resistance box which doesn’t use conventional rotary switches to select the appropriate resistors. These switches are old fashioned and expensive, so [Stynus] built this decade resistance box that uses a microcontroller and a series of relays to switch the resistors.

Simply selecting a resistance on the screen tells the microcontrollers which resistors need to be switched in order to provide the proper resistance. The box uses relays to do switching instead of transistors because the transistors don’t handle high frequency AC as well as the relays. The device is powered by an 18V transformer and rectifier and, as a bonus, [Stynus] got all of his parts on the cheap which made this a great solution to the expensive resistance decade box problem.

This is a very well-polished piece of test equipment. We’ve featured other decade resistance boxes but never one that was controlled by a microcontroller. All of the PCB layouts and the code for microcontroller are available on the project site if you have a desire to make your own.