Arduino for physicists


A week ago I had the chance to organize a workshop with Francesco Maiocchi, a colleague of mine, at the department of physics.

The workshop was part of a wider project, LCM OpenLab, a series of conferences and lessons aimed at introducing IT tools & free software to physics students.
Being a member of the LCM Staff and one of the minds behind the OpenLab initiative, I could’t miss the chance to give a talk myself!

I and Francesco, a first year student, decided to introduce the Arduino platform to the students giving them the opportunity to try out the board and build different devices.

We believe Arduino provides a simple but yet powerful interface to the microcontrollers world and it represents a great opportunity for anyone involved in science or tech. Every physics student should at least know what Arduino enables him to do!

The workshop consisted of a 2 hours activity. Right after a short presentation of the platform - available here - all the students had the chance to work with the board and build some circuits.

Divided into small groups, the participants started wiring a simple led circuit and controlling it with a few lines of code. This first activity went pretty smooth, since all the participants, being physics student, had already took programming classes and knew how to write simple C/C++ statements.

Then we moved onto a more challenging task, connecting and controlling a 16x2 LCD character display. It turned out to be quite easy and fun eventually, even for those less experienced in electronics, thanks to a simple visual schematic I had prepared with the Fritzing software.

Done with LCD wiring and testing, each group moved onto a different project, all of them using the previously wired display. We had prepared in advance four different kits, one for each group, with all the necessary - hardware & software - to build:

  • an electrical conductivity meter for liquids
  • a 1-axis servo-controlled stabilizer
  • a Bluetooth remote display
  • an ultrasound distance meter

For this final project we provided the source code ready for upload, since we didn’t have enough time to explain all the advanced software features and programming paradigm.

More than 35 people signed up for the Workshop and we had to repeat the event the next week. At the end everybody was satisfied and appreciated the preparation and the support we provided them during the activity.
Many participants also asked us where they could get an Arduino board and additional resources.

Here are some pictures of the event: