I got bored. And I was looking for something to do that was more like tinkering than research. Something that would be a distraction from real work. I used to enjoy coding when I was a kid, and I had been reading about Raspberry Pi, which seemed to be a brilliant, simple way to get back into playing with computers. Then I read about the Arduino project, which seemed to be even closer to what I wanted to do.
Raspberry Pi is perfect for making things that require computing power behind them – like playing music or video files. Arduino boards are better suited to controlling simple electronics projects. They contain a microcontroller chip that can be programmed to detect inputs from connected sensors and then control the function of connected stuff. In reality, there is a lot of overlap between what the two can do, but Arduino was the best fit for what I wanted – to make simple lab equipment.
Getting started with Arduino is incredibly simple. The easiest option is to buy the starter kit, which includes a basic Arduino UNO board (like the one pictured above), together with a box of electronic components and connectors. Also included is a project book, which takes you step-by-step through 18 mini projects. Each project introduces a new element of coding, and a new piece of electronics. I had never understood electronics before and this is a great way to learn. Kits are available through Amazon, but also through UK University suppliers like Farnell and RS Components. The Arduino project website contains a lot of useful information, but the outstanding resource is Adafruit. As well as being a great source of components, Adafruit is an incredible resource for ideas, tutorials and knowledge. There are also many many Arduino projects on Instructables.
The posts in this blog detail the lab stuff we have made. Some of these are useful, some of them were just fun to make. The best bit has been working on these with students, and I have found this to be some of the most enjoyable and rewarding teaching that I have done.