Category Archives: Education

Audio Amplifier

The last 6 weeks of my course have been spent on an individual design project. The aim of this project was to build a small amplifier for use with a phone / iPod. Everything was designed and built from scratch and I’ve really enjoyed seeing my initial design turn out as an actual product.

After learning the technical aspects of the required circuit components the first step was to calculate the filter cut-off frequencies and the gain of the circuit. We then simulated this using the industry standard ISIS (Labcenter Electronics).

ISIS Design

Then we built the circuit on a breadboard and tested it using a digital oscilloscope to verify the design.

Breadboard

ARES is the sister program to ISIS and is used to design the PCB. It gives you a list of components from the original design and you place them and edit the track connections appropriately.

ARES Design

After a quick lesson in soldering (in which we soldered 10 LEDs and resistors to a board) we received our printed designs and set about soldering the components on.

All worked perfectly on my first go!

All worked perfectly on my first go!

Connecting all the controls.

Connecting all the controls.

A home-made version of the board holder.

A home-made version of the board holder!

It was a few days before the deadline and the realization came that by focusing on getting a working circuit I’d completely neglected building the case. The university model shop which was equipped with a laser cutter had a queue days long, so I decided to do it by hand. A trip to B&Q was in order, the nearest one being around 5 miles from campus. After consulting the map I decided it being such a simple route that I’d walk it. It was a beautiful day and I got to see some not so beautiful parts of Birmingham, walking for hours alongside the A47 (carrying 1m^2 of mdf on the way back).


View Larger Map

For some absurd reason at that particular B&Q you need to be over 21 to buy drill bits. A handsaw and drill were fine but drill bits somehow crossed a line. Luckily I managed to borrow some from a friend. I turned my kitchen and room into a temporary workshop and my bathroom into a painting / varnishing room for a couple of days, and got some parts of the design drilled by a very helpful lab assistant down in a workshop.

Kitchen Workshop

And so after a quick trip to a Screwfix to purchase more appropriate screws and to Maplin to buy a smaller knob, it was finally complete a few hours before the deadline.

Amp Front

Amp Back

Considering how touch and go the last week was I’m really pleased with how it turned out. The acrylic paint and varnish I found in a main building room bring out a really nice look. The gain is less than the theoretical value which I suspect can be blamed on a certain resistor but it does the job and I’m not going to tear it apart now. Next project I’m going to be a bit more organised!

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Post 16 Education

By the end of Year 11, I knew I wanted to do something in a STEM field but wasn’t sure what. I achieved A/B in my GCSEs so there was a lot of choice available. I went straight into my schools Sixth Form (now Academy..) mainly because it was so much more convenient staying in my home town rather than commuting via several buses into Swindon. I chose to do A-levels in maths, physics, computing and history. The idea with history was to balance myself out a bit and prove I wasn’t just a number crunching machine. I struggled quite a lot in Year 12 with outside distractions having a pretty negative impact on my grades, ending up with C/D at the end of it. History was definitely a bad choice, it has quite a lot of reading to do that piled up quick whilst trying to make time to practice maths / physics. One of the teachers style of teaching was comically awful too. In Year 13 I carried on with A2 computing and physics, whilst retaking AS maths. At then end of this I had a B in maths, C in computing and a D in physics. I’d already decided not far into the year that I was going to spend a third year at a college and not start the UCAS process.

For my third year of A-levels I went to New College Swindon. This was about a 25 minute drive from my house (the quickest way being east a junction on the M4). I retook physics and took A2 maths, general studies and AS electronics. Because New College only ran the AQA physics course I attended those lessons but was entered to retake the OCR board (Advancing Physics B). The courses are pretty similar in content but in my opinion the OCR exams are much more punishing and require a really good intuition and understanding of physics. The official endorsed textbook is an absolute disaster zone, with no worked examples and most of it is just waffle on the history of physics. Interesting stuff but no good for helping understanding! On each board you have to do a practical, the difference being that on OCR you have to design the entire thing from scratch, whilst on AQA my classmates just followed a lab-script and had to analyse the results. I do enjoy most of physics but I’ll admit some concepts I’ve never been able to totally nail (I only managed to bump my grade to a C). My maths teacher (and tutor) was David Stephenson and one of the best teachers I have ever had. He was in charge of Oxbridge submissions for the college and an absolute genius in maths, which helped me get a B grade at last. I opted to do AS electronics just because I was doing an extra year anyway, and it would hopefully be relevant on a degree course. The electronics teacher, Ned, is another great teacher with a sense of humour that made electronics pretty enjoyable (grade B). The general studies course consisted of about 4 hours of teaching before you took the exam, so I took it on a whim just to see how far I could get through bullshitting. Almost all of my revision process for that was reading the BBC News app on my phone. I achieved a B from that. My strategy in every general studies exam is just to start a multi page rant and throw in any argument even slightly related to the topic, and it seems that’s what they want!

Overall I don’t think Sixth Form was the best choice education wise, but I did have a lot of fun because everyone in the year had been together for years and we knew the school well. I think the problem was often teachers had to spread themselves too thinly over their classes and couldn’t devote enough time to properly engage A-level students. The resources available just couldn’t compare to New College and kids everywhere got annoying fast. The general feel was that you were still in Year 11 with having to sign in and out, not allowed to leave on free periods and teachers enforcing uniform rules to the letter. Apparently it’s got even worse since I left, with students actually being timetabled onto “study sessions” and monitored instead of free periods. If you can’t learn to adjust to your workload and complete assignments on time of your own accord then university will be a waste of time and money. Even with all that we had some great times and some unforgettable teachers (Ford). That was my A-level experience, which when you look at it is just a means to an end. Good luck to anyone trying to figure out their route through life!

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