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A Project-Based Introduction to Electronics

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Teaching Circuit Theory and Electronics

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.90.1 - 22.90.12



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Paper Authors


James W. Bales Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Dr. James W. Bales is the Assistant Director of the MIT Edgerton Center, a center dedicated to hands-on, project-based learning. Before joining the Edgerton Center in 1998, he spent seven years designing, building, and testing small robot submarines to explore the deep ocean as part of the MIT Sea Grant AUV Lab.

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Title: A Project-Based Introduction to ElectronicsAuthor: James W. BalesAbstract:We have created a laboratory subject that gives a hands-on introduction to electronics, aimed atundergraduate and first-year graduate students with no background in electronics. The initialexperiments are aimed at getting the students working with a limited range of test equipment(digital multimeters and power supplies) by building circuits that give them a tangible result.These include driving LEDs and building simple audio amplifiers that they can drive from theirMP3 players. By the fourth week (meeting for one three-hour session each week) they candesign, build, debug, and demonstrate their first project -- an LED-based night-light circuit.Then, we introduce the function generator and oscilloscope as tools for viewing frequencies toofast to view by the unaided eye. These tools are used to analyze RC circuits, and studentsobserve how the performance of these circuits can be tailored by changing the values of selectcomponents. All experiments are followed by in-class discussion to solidify understanding, withadditional explanatory material presented as needed. Active components are covered in a "black-box" fashion, along with discussion of how to read data sheets. Devices covered includetransistor switches, comparators, operational amplifiers and elementary timing circuits. Mostexperiments include sensors (e.g., photocells and thermistors) and actuators (e.g., solenoids andmotors). The subject concludes with a design project applying the material learned. Recentexamples include an analog optical communication link and a color organ. Our goal is to engagestudents in building and hacking simple circuits that give immediate satisfaction, then use themto learn a rule-of-thumb approach to circuit theory. Our expectation is that, having engaged thestudents in electronics, some of them will be motivated to enroll in more advanced courses tolearn what goes on inside of the integrated circuits.Contact:James W. Bales, Ph.D.Assistant Director and InstructorMIT Edgerton Center, Room 4-40677 Massachusetts AvenueCambridge, MA 02139(617) 253-6178 (V)(617) 253-1535 (F)bales@mit.edu

Bales, J. W. (2011, June), A Project-Based Introduction to Electronics Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17372

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