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Pittkit And The Breadboard Laboratory Interface Processor (Blip): An Educational Apparatus Centered On The Individual Student

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

BME Laboratories and Skills-Based Projects

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

13.983.1 - 13.983.10



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Paper Authors


George Stetten University of Pittsburgh

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George Stetten is a Professor in the Bioengineering Department at the University of Pittsburgh, and a Research Professor in the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.

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David Weiser Respironics

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David Weiser is an engineer with Respironics, Inc., and was an undergraduate and then staff in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh.

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Timothy Cooper University of Pittsburgh

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Timothy Cooper is staff at the University of Pittsburgh Department of Bioengineering.

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Samantha Horvath University of Pittsburgh

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Samantha Horvath is an undergraduate in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

PittKit and the Breadboard Laboratory Interface Processor (BLIP): An Educational Apparatus Centered on the Individual Student.


We describe a kit of electronics tools, components, and equipment developed for the required one-semester instrumentation course in the Bioengineering Department at the University of Pittsburgh. The kit is owned by each student and includes a microprocessor-based apparatus that communicates to any standard computer (PC/Linux/Mac) without special software, acting as a variety of basic laboratory instruments that no longer must be purchased and maintained by the department. Fundamental electronics and bioengineering principals are taught using a hands-on approach that serves students in all branches of bioengineering. We report results after four years and more than 200 students, as we prepare to make the kits available to other universities.


Electronics has traditionally been one of the cornerstones of biomedical engineering, with devices such as pacemakers representing milestones in the early application of engineering to medicine. In recent years, however, interest in electronics among biomedical engineering students has waned, as electronic devices have become increasingly complex, and miniaturized. Constructing custom electronics in the laboratory is far less common today than in decades past. At the same time, an explosion in imaging technologies and the incredible evolution of computers have usurped the interests of many students who might have once been electronics “gadgeteers.” Nonetheless, the act of analyzing, constructing, and debugging relatively simple electronic circuits remains an effective way for students to learn about mathematics, physics, and the scientific method. Forty years ago a company named Heathkit® produced educational kits from which many enthusiasts learned the basic theory and practice of electronics. A surprising number of today’s senior electrical engineers fondly recall building these satisfying and well- designed kits. Nothing comparable is available today.

Educational kits are still available, most notably from RadioShack®, but these generally do not include much basic theory, being geared instead towards the hobbyist who wants to see something work without too much pedagogy. At the other end of the spectrum is National Instruments®, which makes a wide array of well-supported equipment for university teaching and research laboratories. Such systems are generally too expensive for students to own individually and rely primarily on simulations of circuits for their educational value, although they do provide input and output for external systems. Recently they have introduced a new line of breadboard interfaces to address the need for more actual electronic components in laboratory courses.

A number of excellent books have been widely used that stress the practical aspect of electrical engineering. The Art of Electronics1 was first published in the 1980 as the result of a course at Harvard taught by Paul Horowitz. A later edition was released in 1989 and is still a very useful book. More recently, another excellent book has been published, Practical Electronics for Inventors2, which is used at MIT and elsewhere for laboratory oriented electronics courses. These books are unusual in their comprehensive treatment of both the practical and theoretical

Stetten, G., & Weiser, D., & Cooper, T., & Horvath, S. (2008, June), Pittkit And The Breadboard Laboratory Interface Processor (Blip): An Educational Apparatus Centered On The Individual Student Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4367

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