Data Logging In The Picoampere Range

You probably know that to transfer the most energy between a source and a load their impedance needs to match. That’s why a ham radio transmitter needs a 50 ohm antenna (at least, usually). The transmitter is 50 ohms and you want a match. Some test equipment matches impedance, but for multimeters, oscilloscopes and a lot of other gear, the instrument just presents a very large impedance. As long as it is much larger than the measured circuit’s impedance, the effect will be small.

With today’s MOSFET instrumentation amplifiers, it isn’t uncommon to see very high input impedances.  However, you sometimes run into something that has a low input Z and that can cause issues if you don’t account for them. On the other hand, where some people see issues, others see opportunities.

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Sigzig Data Loggers Ditch The Noise While Pimping The Case

We ran into [Paul Allen] at CES. He was showing off Sigzig, a super-low noise data logger which his company is just rolling out.

IMG_20150107_174520A couple of years ago he worked on a standalone chemical sensor and had a few extra boards sitting around after the project was done. As any resourceful hacker will do, he reached for them as the closest and easiest solution when needing to log data as a quick test. It wasn’t for quite some time that he went back to try out commercially available loggers and found a problem in doing so.

The performance of off-the-shelf data loggers wasn’t doing it for [Paul’s] team. They kept having issues with the noise level found in the samples. Since he had been patching into the chemical sensor PCBs and getting better results, the impetus for a new product appeared.

The flagship 24-bit 8-channel Sigzig samples 0-5v with less than 1uV of noise. A less expensive 4-channel differential unit offers 18-bit with 10-12 uV of noise. They are targeting $199 and $399 price points for the two units. We asked about the sample rate in the video below. The smaller version shown here captures up to 240 samples per second. The big guy has the hardware potential to sample 30,000 times per second but since the data is continuously streaming over USB that rate is currently limited to much less.

Update: It has been pointed out in the comments that USB may not be the choke point for sample rate.