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An Electronics Lab Project: Tutorial and Design of Printed Circuit Board "Big Blinky"

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Capstone, Undergraduate Research, and Projects in ECE

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

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Paper Authors


Rod Blaine Foist California Baptist University

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Rod Foist Professor (and IEEE student club advisor), Electrical and Computer Engineering, Gordon & Jill Bourns College of Engineering, California Baptist University, Dr. Foist received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in Electrical Engineering from the University of Washington in 1982 and 1989, respectively. He earned his Ph.D. degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of British Columbia in 2011, specializing in signal processing of spectroscopy data with secondary emphasis in system-on-chip implementation. His on-going research interests involve embedded processing using FPGAs and hardware acceleration of algorithms. In the fall of 2011, Dr. Foist joined the College of Engineering at California Baptist University. He is a U.S. Navy veteran who still strives to serve God and country. He has been happily married for 42 years and has four adult children and two grandchildren.

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John Butler California Baptist University

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Dr. John Butler is currently an Assistant Professor in the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at California Baptist University. He received his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering from the University of California, Riverside, in 2009, 2011, and 2014, respectively. In the fall of 2018 Dr. Butler joined the Gordon and Jill Bourns College of Engineering at California Baptist University as an Assistant Professor. Prior to this, he served as an Adjunct Professor since 2014. His research background includes nanoscale fabrication and characterization, particularly of magnetic thin films for data storage and logic devices. His research into multilevel bit patterned magnetic media showed the feasibility of using three magnetic layers to triple the areal density of magnetic hard disk drives. Since his Ph.D. research on Fabrication and Characterization of Nanomagnetic Media for Data Storage and Logic Operations in 2015, he has worked as a research engineer for the Center for Nanoscale Science and Engineering in the nanofabrication cleanroom facility at the University of California, Riverside. During his time there, he has helped train the next generation of engineers on how to conduct their research in the nanoscale. Since working at CBU, Dr. Butler has collaborated with Dr. Rickard on the development of a nanofabricated sensor that monitors intraocular strain. Dr. Butler’s research has resulted in nine papers within peer-reviewed journals. He is also a Senior Member of the IEEE.

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Gibson Fleming California Baptist University

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Gibson Fleming, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Student of Gordon & Jill Bourns Engineering, California Baptist University, Class of 2020,

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Laboratory projects can be strategically used to improve the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) curriculum across all four years, according to National Science Foundation (NSF) research in which we participated. In this “spiral model” approach, lab component themes are introduced in the freshman year and revisited with increased sophistication and interconnection in the following years. Labs are thus used as a “cohesive framework” that connects and integrates individual courses. Three themes were used in the research: video (and image), sound, and touch sensors. In this paper, we present a new lab project within the video/image theme—a 10-component printed circuit board (PCB) design, based on a 555 timer chip, that alternately flashes two light emitting diodes (LEDs). Based on prior experience, and for ease of soldering, this project uses only through-hole (and not surface mount) components—hence the name “big” blinky. The main contribution of this paper is to integrate together the spiral model concept (by providing a flashing LEDs lab project) with a useful, how-to PCB tutorial that should help students (and professors) to make future circuits for labs and research. Specifically, we provide a two-part, detailed, easy-to-follow tutorial which teaches the student how to use the popular industry PCB software, Altium Designer 2018 (AD18), and then to submit the project to a PCB maker’s website to manufacture big_blinky. A three-day introductory AD18 course taken by one of the faculty authors did not show how to do a simple design from start-to-finish. In contrast, the big_blinky tutorial provides a simple, interesting, start-to-finish, guaranteed-to-work ECE project for professors and students who want to learn PCB design using world-class software. At the same time, this paper provides a relatively simple circuit design that fits nicely within the video/image theme of the spiral model for ECE curriculum improvement—the control of LEDs. Proposed upgrades of the project, which show “increased sophistication and interconnection” for later years of the curriculum, are also provided. This project has been successfully used in our first year “Introduction to Engineering” course, but has also been used effectively as an IEEE club project that included freshmen through seniors (and graduate students). Student feedback through formal surveys has been very positive. The project was also successfully converted to CircuitMaker (the free version of Altium Designer). The tutorial documents (PDFs) and AD18 (plus CircuitMaker) project code (and bill of materials for ordering components) will be available for downloading online, via the Wixsite web-hosting service:

Foist, R. B., & Butler, J., & Fleming, G. (2020, June), An Electronics Lab Project: Tutorial and Design of Printed Circuit Board "Big Blinky" Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34112

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