Building Scientific Apparatus by Moore et al. (2nd ed)
The Art of Electronics by Horowitz and Hill (2nd
Both of these are great references as well
as textbooks. If you have any inkling at all that you may be
around instrumentation in the future, hang onto these books at the end of the semester!
LabView for Everyone by Wells and Travis
This course teaches the fundamentals of the design and construction
of experimental apparatus using astronomical instruments as the
model for the process. We will cover key aspects of some of the
most important topics in the field: optics and optical design,
mechanical design and machining, electronics design and fabrication,
real-time computer control, project planning, and performance
analysis. Since we cannot teach you everything you need to know
in a single semester, we will try to equip you with enough background
to be able to continue learning on your own.
By the end of the course, you should have a concrete knowledge
of many of the essentials of instrumentation. You should be able
to plan out, schedule, and organize an instrumentation project
and have some idea of what goes into a project budget. You should
understand the steps involved in the mechanical, optical, software,
and electronics design. You should have a good working knowledge
of where to obtain information you need for your project in each
of these areas. You should have concrete knowledge of computer
aided design (CAD) programs for mechanical design (AutoCad),
electronics design and simulation (Circuit Maker), and
optical design and simulation (Zemax). You will know how
to do basic work with hand tools and with machine shop equipment.
You will be able to assemble and understand some electronics
circuits and be able to use laboratory equipment to test them.
You will know the fundamentals of optical design and be able
to design and build a grating spectrometer. You will be able
to use LabView to interface an instrument to a computer.
HOW THE COURSE WORKS
Astronomy 392J is a team-taught course where you are part of
the team.There will be at most one class per week in a more conventional
seminar/lecture format. Most of the rest of the time, the class
will look more like an apprenticeship, an engineering project
course, a physics lab course, or a bunch of curious kids let
loose in a room full of great toys. The learning in this course
is centered around the activities of teams of 4-5 students. We
have structured the activities to emphasize
collaborative learning. As future teachers, researchers, and
technical managers, you will need to know how to help colleagues,
coworkers, employees, and students master complex material. You
will start that process here. Your participation as a teacher/trainer
in this course is as important as your role as student/trainee.
You will be encouraged to work together on almost everything.
Although there will be some background reading to do, most of
the learning will take place in the form of activities. Compared
to the typical course, this course will involve much more "class''
time and somewhat less time outside of class. We encourage people
to make themselves available to their peers by spending some
extra time in the lab. We have set aside general space to allow
you to work together on problem sets or to to do TA grading jobs.
Feel free to hang out, but be ready to give up your space if
a working group or team needs it for some reason.
As professor and TA for this course, we
serve four purposes:
As facilitators. We are here to make sure you have all resources
necessary to do the activities and learn the material. This includes
making sure the software works, the hardware is there, the materials
are clear etc.
part of the coaching staff. Along
with the other members of the Department and the Observatory
who are making themseleves available, we are a knowledge resource.
You can come to us for advice, for direction to additional people
or material, or for help when you are flat-out stuck.
referees. When there are conflicts
between or within teams and groups over resources or (heaven
forfend!) personalities that cannot be resolved satisfactorily
without our help, we are there to deal with them.
As evaluators. This is after all
a course. You will get a grade (see below). We also take seriously
the part of this role that involves evaluating the course materials
and organization, as well as the performance of the outside instructors
and even ourselves. Y'all need to contribute to this effort by
taking your own evaluating role seriously.
Segments and Segment
The curriculum for this class has been divided into four segments.
Each segment covers an important aspect of instrument design
and construction: mechanical design and fabrication, electronics
and circuit design, optics and optical design, and computer interfacing
and software design. The segments will consist of a reading assignment,
a set of problems, some hands-on skill learning tasks and a laboratory
The class will be divided into segment
groups. Each group will rotate through the segments
in succession. Groups will have 3 weeks to complete each
segment. You will do most of the activites as a group.
Projects and Project
A major aspect of this course will be the use of what you are
learning to design and construct a working instrument. The instrument
project will consist of designing and building an optical spectrograph.
This instrument will have a solid-state optical detector and
operate under computer control. It should be able to take wavelength-calibrated
spectra of bright emission-line sources (lamps).
You will carry out the project as a member
of a project team. Each team will be responsible
for planning, designing, and building its own instrument. The
members of your team will all come from different segment
groups so that your team quickly collects all of the skills
needed to carry out the project. Each team should select
a leader and a spokesperson. Neither of these people should hold
such a position in one of the groups.
Each segment will have a reading assignment, a set of paper exercises,
a piece of software to master, a practical exercise, and an evaluation/debrief.
Because other groups will need access to the hardware,
your group must complete each section within the allotted
time. The evaluations should be done individually and handed
in to the instructors. You should work out the paper exercises
or problem sets on your own. You may then consult with your group
about the answers. Once you are sure you know the answer, you
must hand in your own writeup. Problem sets will be due at the
end of each segment (note that, for the computer interfacing
segent, you will need to demo your knowledge rather than doing
a problem set). Each project team will have a preliminary review
of their design and a final review of the project. At the two
reviews, each member of the team will be expected to be able
to stand up and make any part of the presentation. At the preliminary
review, approximately six weeks before the end of classes, each
team member will have to turn in a written description of the
instrument, how it will work, and how it will be built. This
document should be about two pages long, plus figures.
In order to transfer information between the groups and
teams and between these entities and the instructors,
to settle scheduling conflicts, and to provide an opportunity
for making adjustments in the material, we will have at least
a brief class meeting one day per week, nominally Monday, but
subject to variation due to local circumstances. Typically, about
50 minutes one day every few weeks will be devoted to a class
lecture/activity on an instrumentation topic. The other time
will be used for meetings of groups and teams, together with
the Prof. or TA. Attendance at the meetings is a course requirement.
Do not be late for class. We will notice.
Segment or project group: You are
all working together, so split up the learning task in a way
that makes sense to you and then teach each other what you know.
classmates: Many of you come into
this with a great deal of knowledge and talent. Make it your
business to find out which of your classmates is already an expert
in something and tap into that expertise.
Prof and TA: Each of us will spend
some time in the laboratory outside of class time, randomizing
our hours to try to overlap with the times used by groups and
teams. If you need to meet with us, have a member of your group
arrange a time for one of us to be here when your group or team
is. Personal problems of individual students can be handled in
my office, by arrangement.
Line Materials: We don't have any
yet, but we want to build some up in an organic way as the course
proceeds. Those of you who do not have accounts on the Astronomy
Department server, astro, should get one. Ask us to write you
a note. We have set up an account on astro, ast392e@astro.
Whenever you have a question, send mail to that account. If you
have already learned the answer, please send the question anyway,
along with the answer. You may help a classmate in need or someone
in a later class. In the top directory of the ast392 account,
there are files labeled "interfacing", "optics",
"electronics", and "mechanical", corresponding
to the four segment topics, as well as another file labeled "project".
These files are all readable by anyone with an astro account.
Either browse them using vi or download the whole file. If you
come across an unanswered question or one where you know another,
better, or more correct answer, please send e-mail to the account.
Note the number of the question in that e-mail.
experts: One advantage in being
in a place where a lot of building is going on is that somebody
usually knows the answer to your question. We will be calling
on some of the local experts to share their expertise in certain
areas and to serve on the design reviews for your projects. Sometimes,
these folks can be helpful before you get to that stage by getting
you started on something, giving you a reference, or telling
you your idea won't work. These folks can be found on the 15th
to 17th floors of RLM. Here is a partial list.
Phillip MacQueen, Gary Hill, John Lacy, Marsha Wolf.
Al Mitchell, Phillip MacQueen, Gary Hansen, Fred Harvey, Joe
Computer Interfacing: Mark Cornell, Bill Spiesman.
John Booth, Gordon Wesley, George Barczak, Jimmy Wellborn
Forbid!) A book. There are tons
of books out there. Some of them are even helpful. Also, check
out parts catalogs. They often have little tutorials in them.
The parts themselves sometimes give you ideas. Individual segments
will contain some specific references to relevant reading material.
Evaluation of Your Performance
We intend your grade in this course to reflect the amount of
skill you acquire and the strength of your contribution to the
efforts of your group to learn the material and your team to
build the instrument. Items we will include in setting your grade
(including coming on time)
problem sets and group segment reports
completeness, thoughtfulness and insight displayed in your evaluations
of the segments and the project
writeup of the instrument for the preliminary review
performance and that of your team at the preliminary review
level of mastery you display when you (individually and as a
team) exhibit and demonstrate your instrument at the end of the
To carry out this last point, during the last week of class,
your team will demonstrate your instrument. Each of you will
have a private discussion with the prof. and TA in which you
explain the workings of the various elements of your system.
Your evaluation on item (6) will depend equally on how well your
team did on the project, and on how well you did yourself.