Electronics Course at BeAM

Seventeen attendants, a mix of undergraduate and graduate students, post-docs, faculty, and staff, from eight different departments, recently participated in our five-day workshop "Electronics for Everyone," taught by Matt Verber and Collin McKinney, both engineers in the Chemistry Department’s Electronics Design Facility.

Matt and Collin made an initial assumption that everyone knew Ohm’s Law from a physics course; no other electronics knowledge was required. Each day consisted of approximately one hour of lecture, followed by two hours of hands-on lab exercises. The main goal was to introduce enough material so that participants would be able to build working circuits, perform measurements, and understand basic circuit operation.

"The course was very much what I expected, and exactly what I needed..."

Attendees learned about basic circuit components, measuring instruments such as multimeters, oscilloscopes, and spectrum analyzers, and prototyping tools like breadboards, and power supplies. Emphasis was placed on understanding circuit performance in both the time and frequency domains, which allowed the introduction of Op-Amps, filters, and circuit simulation. Ample time was devoted to lab, practicing the building, and testing of circuits.

With the ability to amplify and filter signals, participants subsequently learned about sensors, and experimented with various sensor types, such as photocells, magnetic sensors, thermistors, microphones, and rotational encoders.

Next followed mechatronics, with hands-on exercises using solenoids, relays, servos, DC motors, and stepping motors. Participants then integrated sensors and actuators, to build circuits to control motors with microphone or temperature inputs. During the final morning, attendees learned additional practical skills, such as soldering, PCB layout, and enclosure design.

The feedback from participants in this course has been overwhelmingly positive. Emma Cating, a Ph.D. student in the Papanikolas Group, felt that the "course was very much what I expected, and exactly what I needed." Jessie Barrick, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Physics, thought the course "very well complemented an earlier course on LabVIEW, taught by professor Hugon," and that "all instructors were phenomenal."

Having finished this one, participants also requested additional courses, covering for instance signal processing techniques, more complex circuitry, and how to deal with transistor logic circuits, and op-amps on a deeper level.  A course on electronic noise elimination and ground loops/unintentional antennae/RF noise was also suggested, along with time spent on beginning programming languages. All of the received comments will be considered. Please be on the lookout for new iterations of this and other electronics courses at BeAM!