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A Versatile Platform for Programming and Data Acquisition: Excel and Visual Basic for Applications

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Engineering Physics & Physics Division Technical Session 2

Tagged Division

Engineering Physics & Physics

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.125.1 - 24.125.12

Permanent URL

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Paper Authors


Harold T. Evensen University of Wisconsin, Platteville

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Hal Evensen earned his doctorate in Engineering Physics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he performed research in the area of plasma nuclear fusion. Before joining UW-Platteville in 1999, he was a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Washington, part of group that developed automation for biotechnology. His recent research includes collaborations in energy nanomaterials.

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A  versatile  platform  for  programming  and  data  acquisition:    Excel  and  Visual  Basic  for  Applications    We  have  switched  to  a  new  software  platform  to  for  instrument  interface  and  data  collection  in  our  upper-­‐division  Sensors  Laboratory  course.    This  was  done  after  investigating  several  options  and  after  several  meetings  with  our  industrial  advisory  board.    This  change  was  motivated  by  a  campus-­‐mandated  change  in  operating  system,  plus  expiring  software  licenses.    We  decided  on  the  Visual  Basic  for  Applications  platform  (VBA),  which  resides  in  the  Microsoft  Office  suite  (in  particular,  MS  Excel).    This  meets  the  recommendations  of  our  advisory  board,  which  strongly  urged  that  we  use  a  “traditional”  programming  language,  as  opposed  to  a  graphical  one,  in  order  to  provide  our  students  the  broadest  possible  applied  programming  “base.”    Further,  it  has  the  advantage  that  the  platform  is  widely  available  and  the  required  add-­‐ins  are  free,  so  that  graduates  (and  other  programs)  are  able  to  use  this  as  well.    Finally,  this  approach  has  the  added  benefit  of  extending  the  students’  prerequisite  computer  programming  into  VBA,  which  is  useful  beyond  the  realm  of  instrument  control  and  data  acquisition.    This  paper  will  describe  the  resources  that  were  collected  –  and  modified  –  by  the  author,  for  the  apparently  novel  combination  of  VBA,  64-­‐bit  programming,  and  access  to  both  serial/USB  and  GPIB  instrumentation,  and  provides  examples  of  implementation.    The  basic  principles  of  VBA  for  non-­‐experts  will  also  be  given,  as  well  as  strengths  and  drawbacks  of  this  approach.    We  will  also  report  on  the  first  offering  of  the  redesigned  course  and  remark  on  future  improvements.  

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