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Using Signal Express To Automate Analog Electronics Experiments

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Curriculum Development in Electrical ET

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.1427.1 - 10.1427.9



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Paper Authors

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Jay Porter

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Benjamin Brannaka

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It is well known that many undergraduate students, especially in engineering technology programs, learn best through hands-on experience. Thus, when teaching analog electronics, it is critical to provide the students with a meaningful laboratory experience. While this sounds straightforward, it is often difficult to do in practice. Many analog electronics experiments can be very time consuming. For example, plotting the frequency response of an active filter or transistor amplifier requires that the students make multiple amplitude and phase measurements of the input and output signals. This process can be tedious and the result is that the students often only have time to characterize a device once. This means they do not have time to perform “what-if” scenarios where they change out a component and see the effect. Thus, they are losing a valuable education experience. In addition, if their data is wrong then they have no opportunity to repeat the experiment, and as such have learned very little. To address the problem, we have previously presented automated digital and analog measurement systems as a solution.1,2 For example, using a LabVIEW program and GPIB (General Purpose Instrumentation Bus) instruments, one can build an automated frequency response analyzer that will rapidly characterize the frequency response of a circuit. Unfortunately, because the coding of this type of measurement requires a substantial amount of time, the program and the measurement process is typically provided for the student. So, while this method allows the students to characterize systems over and over, it removes them from the design of the test and measurement process, again costing the student a valuable learning opportunity. Recently, National Instruments released a new software product called Signal Express. The package is a dedicated test and measurement environment where the individual can use high-level signal sourcing and measurement blocks to build an automated measurement system that will collect and present data in a graphical form. Like LabVIEW, the environment is graphical, allowing users to place individual measurement blocks in a particular sequence. Unlike LabVIEW, the environment has a very short learning curve so that students can rapidly program their own tests. Thus, it is easy to use while still leaving the need to design the required test in the hands of the student. In the Summer of 2004, the EET Program at Texas A&M evaluated Signal Express and wrote two electronics labs based on it. It is currently being deployed in an electronics lab and will be used to see how students respond to this new measurement tool. In this paper, we will discuss the use of Signal Express and present an example for use in an analog electronics laboratory.

Porter, J., & Brannaka, B. (2005, June), Using Signal Express To Automate Analog Electronics Experiments Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--15335

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