student puts circuit together

Have you ever wondered why every time you open your car door the interior lights turn on? Or what about when you change the station on your car radio? Or has it ever crossed your mind while playing video games how exactly your controller is working in tandem with the game? 

According to Auriana Johnson, faculty member in the Science department, the answer is simple: digital circuits. Through her Digital Logic Circuits course, students are building and coding digital circuits each week to create fully-functioning machines. And while class projects have ranged from creating pianos to crystal balls, the most recent  project is just starting to heat up; students have been asked to program a “love-o-meter”, a machine used to calculate compatibility through heat sensors. 

In order to build the love-o-meter, students are using a breadboard, computer processing hardware, temperature sensors, wires, a few LED lights, resistors, and a whole lot of critical thinking. 

“The students are creating something that uses a temperature sensor to change how much current passes through the wires depending on the temperature that the sensor reads,” Ms. Johnson said. “If the temperature increases, it will send a signal to light up the LED lights on the breadboard. If we use two temperature sensors and two people, a sensor for each person, we can test their compatibility based on temperature. In theory, similar temperatures would mean more compatibility and opposite temperatures would indicate less.” 

And if that sounds like a different language, it’s because it is. Ms. Johnson notes that students are working within the coding software Arduino and using language that sends signals to the circuit board to create these outcomes. 

“It sounds overly complicated at first,” Ms. Johnson said. “But at its core, we are using basic computer science and logic to manipulate code that creates circuits to function the way we want them to. I’m mostly teaching students pattern recognition within code; if the students can decipher what different pieces of code do, and how it works, then they should be able to change the code to make it do what they want it to do.” 

Ms. Johnson explains that this type of computer science happens all around us in our daily lives. Being able to recognize it is a meaningful skill to have. 

“Having the ability to understand what’s happening in the world around you is a powerful tool,” she said. “To be able to create something cool and have it function in a way that's meaningful to you is even more powerful. Whether these students decide to go into electrical or mechanical engineering or not, it’s still useful to have some background knowledge on how to wire and program something.”

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