This blog described electronic components that can be used to support or interface to nanodevices.

Analog legend Bob Pease RIP

morreale Sunday 26 of June, 2011
The analog design community suffered another tragedy. Bob Pease died in a car accident returning home from Jim William's funeral. Bob was a wonderful teacher and lecturer. I met him once at a National Semiconductor seminar in 2001. His Analog by Design TV show is still available on the web.


NASA and Maker satellite challenge

morreale Tuesday 19 of April, 2011
Make Magazine and NASA are sponsoring a contest for designer to invent satellite kits to teach high school students about space. Entries are due April 30, 2011.

50 Gflops/watt floating point processor

morreale Thursday 02 of December, 2010
It's not often you see stories like this. A single engineer-entrepreneur architected, designed, and built a System-on-Chip (SoC) single handedly to perform floating point operation using 50 to 100 times less power than available today. It's a fascinating story in EE Times blogabout Andreas Olofsson of Adapteva who took 3 month to convert his architecture to VHDL using the open source Verlator Verilog-to-c translator to verify the 10k lines of VHDL code for the design. He then taped out in 6 weeks and used a shuttle at semiconductor fab for his first prototype. He did this using his personal savings and money from friends and family. He met a customer that ended up funding his company with $1.5 M to go into production. Now that's one lean startup and supportive family.

Small Form Factor Eval Boards

morreale Monday 08 of November, 2010
The folks at Electronic Design Magazine have an interesting article describing small factor microcontroller boards and modules titled Buy your own Small-Form-Factor Boards and Modules. For quick inexpensive prototypes that are not too complex, I would also consider boards from:
I've only worked with the Kontron product quite a few years ago but the were well made and worked well. Before that, I worked with a uCDimm form factor processor board but the issue with this board is that it did not have a MMU which limits the OS selection.

TI Robot Eval board kit for $150

morreale Friday 15 of October, 2010
If you haven't seen the video about the TI Robot Eval Kit you will might be impressed with what looks like a lot of functionality for a good price. The robot is based on the ARM Cortex M3 microprocessor but more details can be found in the datasheets. The robot kit also seems to include the uC/OS-III real time kernel operating system.

So, now I'm wondering how this stacks up with the Actel SmartFusion device which contains a ARM Cortex M3, an FPGA, and a programmable analog front end with ADC and DAC. The uC/OS-III also runs on the Smartfusion. The other question is how does the robot kit compare with the Lego Mindstorm NXT robot kit. So much cool hardware and so little time.

Experimental FET eval board concept

morreale Thursday 14 of October, 2010
So I was rummaging through my spare and sample parts bin last week, and found an bunch of empty 32 pin quad flat pack packages. These packages might be good way to package a nanodevice and provide high-speed signal inputs and outputs, connections for DC bias, and perhaps room for a semiconductor based temperature sensor to make a good eval board to study device performance. The open package might also allow access to the nanodevice for functionalization or other modifications.

The package datasheet leads me to believe that it can operate to 18 GHz. I decided to build a mockup to show at the Princeton Graphene Workshop to get some feedback. What I learned surprised me but more about that later. The schematic for the mock-up eval board is shown below for a graphene FET assuming one could be purchased or fabricated. I propose, using a hexagon around a standard MOSFET symbol to indicate a graphene FET.


The top and bottom view of the mock-up is shown in the next two photos. The edge mound SMA connectors used in the mock-up are good to 12.5 GHz using flexible cable and 18 GHz using semi-rigid coax cable connections. The header is really a place holder for a dual row ribbon connector to allow twisted pair DC connection to the FET and source and drain resistors. A heatsink is connected to the bottom of the board to provide a good thermal path to the package and the graphene FET so that the temperature can be controlled using a TEC cooler or similar thermal controller. I used a flat pack prototype board for this quick mock-up but a real board would have multiple layers and use microstrip traces for good RF connections between the edge launch connectors and the package.



So to my surprise, the first person I showed it to was a theorist and did not have any input on the features, design, or practicality of the mock-up. I guess I thought that most of these new nanodevices are hand made so most people in the field would have more familiarity with hardware. Next, I spoke with and experimentalist and found that the design basically blows. To make Quantum Hall Effect (QHE) measurements and similar meV energy measurements, the temperature needs to be in the mK range so kBT energy levels are less than the energy levels that are to be measured. Thus, the semiconductor temperature will not work because it's only good to -50 °C. The other problem is that electrical connections also conduct heat into the device being measured and this interferes with getting good results. The measurement bandwidth is around 100 GHz so the package is no good either. I'm shocked to find such hard core hardware requirements are needed to measure QHE conductivity and the like.

Well, back to the drawing board. An new package and connector are needed. The table below indicates that a 1.0 mm connector would be a good candidate.

SMA7 to 18 GHz
3.5 mm34 Ghz
2.92 mm 40 GHz
2.4 mm50 GHz
1.85 mm65 GHz
1.0 mm110 GHz

Piezoelectric Energy Harvesting Power Supply

System Administrator Wednesday 23 of June, 2010
Linear Technologies introduced a new energy harvesting chip for piezoelectric sources called the LTC3588-1. The chip has a programmable output range of 1.8V, 2.5V, 3.3V, and 3.6V and reaches 90% efficiency at 1 mA output current.

Energy harvesting Modules

System Administrator Friday 02 of April, 2010
I discovered some energy harvesting modules a few years ago made by Advanced Linear Devices and bought a couple of modules as a kit through Mouser to experiment with energy harvesting. The kit costs around $125 with shipping and included a EH300 module rated at 4.2 mJ and 1.8 to 3.6 V operation, and the EH300A module rated at 30 mJ and operates of the same voltage range. For a perspective on the how much energy these modules can store please seen my Nanoblog Work, work, work. The following two photos shows the front and back sides of the EH300 module.

Photographe of the Advanced Linear Devices EH300 Energy Harvester module top side.

Photograph of the Advanced Linear Devices EH300 Energy Harvester module bottom side.

I hooked the output to an LED with a 91 ohm series resistor. The LED would dissipate 36 mW or 36 mJ/s. I got a piezoelectric film strip with a neon bulb attached to it at a conference expo. When you wave the the bulb around on the end of the strip hard enough, the bulb will light up. I thought this would be a great way to harvest energy so I cut the bulb off and wired the strip to the connector cable assembly and plugged the strip into the module. You can see the module, LED, and resistor in the photo below. After that, you cans see the piezoelectric film strip. I got tried of trying to charge the caps in the module so I carefully stuck the film strip into the blades of a muffin fan. The end of the film strip start to break off so I taped the end with electrical tape to protect it. If you connect the LED onto the module after it's finally charge, it flashes for an estimated 111 ms. I could improve the performance by selecting an more efficient LED but that might keep it on for 200 to 300 ms. The task now is to find a piezoelectric material that can produce more continuous power.

Photograph of the EH300 Energy Harvester Module and Circuit.

Photograph of the piezoelectric film strip.

The last photo shows the EH300A module and cable assembly.

Photograph of the EH300A module and cable assembly.

Slates, tablets, and pads Oh my

System Administrator Monday 29 of March, 2010
The list of slates, tablets, and pads that are coming to market is incredible. Here's a few on the radar.

Freescale Semiconductor
  • Smartbook
    • This one has a 7 inch display, ARM CORTEX A8, capacitive tough screen, and will run Linux, or Android.

IC Packages

System Administrator Friday 26 of March, 2010
I was looking for something and found two eval boards that shows the relative sizes of IC packages. When these packages fist became popular, it was a handy reference. I personally like the SOIC packages because they offer good packaging density, can be hand soldered, and the pins can be inspected without too much special equipment (see board from Fairchild Semiconductor]. The lower photo shows packages from On Semiconductor and are commonly used for Diode, Zener Diodes, FETs, Transistors. These packages offer good packaging density but the power dissipation capability could be better.

Photograph of surface mount IC packages.

Photograph of surface mount transistors packages evaluation board.

SmartFusion, It's here. It's here.

System Administrator Tuesday 23 of March, 2010
My SmartFusion eval board from Actel arrived today 7 week early. The board contains SmartFusion A2F200M3F device, Ethernet, USB, UART, OLED display, flash, and integrated programmer all for $129. The SmartFusion chip contains a ARM Cortex M3, FPGA, and programmable analog circuitry including ADCs and DACs. The programmable analog aspect coupled with the FPGA would seem to make this an ideal device to interface with nanodevices and nanosensors. More details on the kit can be found at A2F-EVAL-KIT. The kit was purchased from Mouser one of three Actel distributors. A development kit is also available but it like around $1000.

The first photos show the SmartFusion in the open box.
Photo of the SmartFusion evaluation board, box, and instructions.

The contents are removed and you can see the board, two USB cables, and instruction card.
The SmartFusion evaluation board kit is unpacked.

The front of the card is nicely laid out. The OLED display is in the upper right next to the pot.
Photograph of the top of the SmartFusion evaluation board.

The bottom of the card is nicely done as well and has more components than I expected.
Photograph of the bottom of the SmartFusion eval board.

I hope to turn it on and test it out but I'm still waiting for the Libero® Integrated Design Environment development tools on DVD. You can download the tools but the files size is around 1.7 GB. At the time, I could not wait that long but now that the boards here may be I can.

So, now I need a nanosensor. I'm now looking for a commercial device that I can buy that won't break the bank and looking an making my own that simple to make. I've read that people use crystal microbalances, cantilevers, and crystal resonators that they functionalize with a bioreceptor. This involve chemistry to link the bioreceptor to the microbalance. When the bioreceptor attaches to its analyte the mass changes so the microbalance slows down. The frequency then is proportional to the the mass of the analyte detected. So, there is much more to follow. Stay tuned.