Learning Electronics: How to Take Step One 101 (by Kawe)

A simple circuit with a LED bulb is the common choice for a first experiment with electronics, it is easy to explain: 2 or 3 components are enough, and the result can be verified with the naked eye, without the need for a multimeter or other instruments.


My first circuit, in all the scarlet splendor of its red LED on, was built for a secondary physics course project, back in 2012. It was quite simple, but the experience (which was not limited to the assembly) illustrated to me several known concepts that I had never really practiced.

In fact, just like me, new people arrive in the fantastic world of electronics, every single day; they want to become developers, creators, or have recently fell from parachute on top of an important electronics project but have limited knowledge of hardware from a development standpoint. If this is your case, I dedicate this entry to you. Now, before we go out wanting to make our own Iron Man suit, we need to know what we are doing, and especially how we are doing it.

In the photo above, you can see an exact rendition of my long ago finished physics project. A a set of 4 1.5V batteries (connected with a battery holder, producing a voltage of 6V) whose red (positive) cable is connected (by means of a clamp) to a led, and whose other cable is connected to a 470Ω resistor, this time connected to the other leg of the same led. The circuit is closed, the led is on, I pass high school physics.

However, not every first project needs to be executed like mine; and even though cable clamping and taping procedures will indeed be part of your first effort towards learning electronics, there are much better – and more interesting – ways to take your first step into this field. Handy tools handy: we will start by clamping the following paragraphs to our brains.

We can say that electronics is the branch of science that studies the use of circuits formed by electrical and electronic components, with the main objective of representing, storing, transmitting or processing information beyond the control of processes and servo mechanisms. From this perspective, it can also be said that the internal circuits of computers (which store and process information), telecommunications systems (which transmit information), the various types of sensors and transducers (which represent physical quantities – information –  in the form of Electrical signals) are all within the area of interest for electronics.

It is on the foundation of these concepts that the understanding of the area begins to take shape in your mind. The prospective experiments and projects will serve to test the theories you are bound to master; and once these concepts are fully understood, it will be time to think about your first development environment and electronics starter kit.  So If you are up to date and ready to clean up your old desk and start clamping cables together, we shall jump right into it.  Bear in mind, though, that you will not need a massive shopping cart worth of random electronic components. Somebody else has already thought it all out for you, long ago. It is time we talk Arduino.

The Arduino was created in 2005 by a group of 5 researchers: Massimo Banzi, David Cuartielles, Tom Igoe, Gianluca Martino and David Mellis. The goal was to design a device that was both inexpensive, functional and easy to program, making it accessible to students and amateur designers. In addition, the concept of free hardware has been adopted, which means that anyone can assemble, modify, improve and customize the Arduino, starting from the same basic hardware.

It is, essentially, a board composed of an Atmel microcontroller, input/output circuits, which can be easily connected to a computer and programmed via the Integrated Development Environment (IDE) using a C/C++ based language, Without the need for extra equipment plus a USB cable. Once programmed, the Arduino microcontroller can be used independently, that is, you can put it to control a robot, a bin, a fan, the lights of your house, the temperature of the air conditioner, you can use it as a measuring instrument or any other design that comes to mind.

My first Arduino starter kit was kindly given to me as a Christmas challenge-gift by my computer science professor and mentor Dr. Leshell Hatley. There were a few items in the box: a breadboard with a variety of jumpers to use with it and a small assortment of leds, resistors and other specialized components. The kit came accompanied by a series of tutorials, bringing the instructions on how to use the components of the kit itself, code examples and experiments from the basic (flashing leds) to more advanced items.

From day one, I started to explore the vast range of possibilities offered by my Arduino; and it did not take me long to feel incredibly impressed by it. In fact, despite its success amongst electronic enthusiasts, I did not expect to find entire communities solely focused on Arduino development. From simple to state-of-the-art devices, robots, tools: an Arduino will allow you to take your electronics project as far as your imagination goes. And the best is: even the simplest projects  – like my simple LED circuit, for instance – will feel amazing to assemble.

Above you can see the breadboarding (we will understand this concept later) stage of my latest project, which I will keep secret for now (an entire entry will be dedicated to it). Arduino experts, can you guess what I am about to build? We will find out soon!

That’s it, for now, Iron Man. I hope you have enjoyed this reading as much as I did, truly. We, the members of LAIA invite you to take a proactive step not only towards learning electronics, but also towards learning what interests you the most. It is time: sketch, assemble, deliver.

Have a wonderful week!
Kawe V. Das Merces
Computer Science and Mathematics Student
Coppin State University

 

Posted in Electronics, Making, Research Scientists.

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