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Arduinos in the Advanced Lab

The Arduino is an open-source microcontroller development system based on the Atmel AT-series microcontrollers. These single-chip computers can collect data, control experiments, and serve as interface devices for other sensors and equipment. They are ideal for remote data collection and for serving as bridges between computer USB ports and arrays of sensors that use other communications protocols such as I2C, SPI, and One-Wire.

Unlike other ALPhA Immersions that focus on a particular physics lab experiment, this Immersion will focus on one specific tool, the Arduino and related devices. The goal is to give participants the skills needed to apply microcontroller solutions to specific Advanced Lab needs at their home institution.

Day 1: The basics. Configuring and using the Arduino IDE; learning the programming language; loading code onto the microcontroller; lights and buttons and knobs and servos; communicating with the various flavors of Arduino; and getting the Arduino to talk back.

Day 2: The sensors. Analog/Digital conversion, both internal and via external A/D converters; Temperature sensors using One-Wire protocol; Acceleration and angular displacement measurements with I2C protocol; Saving data to SD cards; and using Python/PySerial to have a ‘real’ computer plot or analyze data from the Arduino in real time.

Day 3: Rolling your own. Using the Arduino to program other microcontrollers for custom lab applications; Fuses, clocks and crystals; designing and etching your own circuit boards; and the 75-cent microcontroller that does what you need 75% of the time.

Participants need to bring their lab notebook. A laptop is optional if you want to bring your own, but computers will be provided.

The cost of the experiment varies depending on what you're actually DOING with the microcontrollers, but can range from 75 cents for a single small controller to several hundred dollars per setup for a reasonably-complete student experiment station. We'll cover both ends (and the middle) of this price spectrum, with the goal of providing the experience necessary to choose the best equipment for your particular lab needs.