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Operational Amplifiers: Theory and practical applications

By: Noah Kuehn
4/19/17

Abstract
Various operational amplifiers, henceforth referred to as op amps, were constructed
and their uses were verified. A 741 op amp was used for all experiments. A non-
inverting amplifier was constructed and its usage as a signal amplifier was tested. A
unity op amp was constructed and its use as a buffer was verified. A differential
amplifier was constructed and its use as a signal amplifier was tested. Simple
comparators were constructed and their operation was verified. Finally, a circuit was
constructed that could verify whether an unknown voltage was greater or less than a
given reference voltage, this circuit used an op amp as a comparator. All of the above
uses of op amps were ultimately successful, however in some cases certain limitations
of the 741 op amp were also realized.

Introduction
Integrated circuits are a part of nearly every modern electronic device that is used today. An
integral part of many of these circuits is an op amp. The fundamental purpose of an op amp is to
take a set of inputs and somehow transform them into one output. However, there are many
different ways to integrate an op amp into a circuit, and thus there are many different types and
uses of op amps. This paper will discuss and examine just a few of the many flavors of op amps.

The first type of op amp this paper will observe is a non-inverting amplifier. The fundamental
purpose of this op amp is to take a signal which typically has a small magnitude, and output the
same waveform but with a larger magnitude. These op amps can commonly be found in delicate
measurement devices, one example being temperature probes. A temperature change of 10 ยฐC
would only illicit a voltage change of around a millivolt if not less, in order to detect this different,
the signal output by the device would need to be amplified significantly, which a non-inverting
amplifier can do perfectly. A schematic of a generic non-inverting amplifier can be found in Figure 1.

Figure 1. A schematic of a generic non-inverting op amp.

In Figure 1, Vs represents the voltage of the source signal and Vo represents the voltage of the
output signal. Vcc and โ€“Vcc are the op ampโ€™s power supply voltages, theoretically, they are the

The next op amp considered is a differential amplifier. is defined by Equation 1. this op amp is typically used in a voltage dividing circuit where the load impedance is affecting the performance of the circuit. is negligible the gain of a non-inverting amplifier is defined by Equation 2. This allows the differential amplifier to reference the difference between two node voltages and amplify this difference. Hypothetically. Voltage gain in general. also known as a non- inverting unity amplifier. ๐‘‰๐‘œ ๐‘… ๐บ๐‘Ž๐‘–๐‘› = = 1 + ๐‘…2 (2) ๐‘‰๐‘  1 The next op amp this paper will concern itself with is a buffer amplifier. This will cause the op amp to regulate to a specific voltage gain. . Rs. which is sometimes referred to as a gain of unity. The reason why buffer amplifiers work is because their input impedance is theoretically infinite and their output impedance is theoretically zero. This loop connects the output of the op amp to the negative terminal. In Figure 1 a feedback loop can be seen. A schematic for a buffer amplifier can be found in Figure 2. Figure 2. In other words.maximum and minimum voltage the op amp can output. A schematic for a differential amplifier can be found in Figure 3. but this paper will only consider the positive gain orientation). Similar to a non-inverting amplifier. ๐‘‰๐‘œ๐‘ข๐‘ก ๐บ๐‘Ž๐‘–๐‘› = (1) ๐‘‰๐‘–๐‘› Assuming the source impedance. which is determined by the resistor network used. In practice. R2 is equal to zero and R1 is infinite. A schematic of a generic buffer amplifier The only real difference between the non-inverting amplifier and the buffer amplifier is the buffer amplifier has no resistors in its feedback loop. The only limitations imposed on a buffer amplifier are the power supply voltages. the op amp has a gain of one. If these โ€œvaluesโ€ are substituted into Equation 2 it becomes clear why a buffer amplifier has a theoretical gain of one. The primary use of a buffer amplifier is to not disturb the original circuit. The primary difference between the two op amps is a differential amplifier accepts 2 input voltages whereas the non-inverting amplifier only accepts one. a differential amplifier applies a gain to a signal (this gain can be positive or negative depending on the orientation of the op amp. while still pulling out a useful voltage at a specific node.

If this were not the case. In Figure 3. Equations 4 and 5 summarize the statements above. . Vi refers to the difference between the positive node voltage and the negative node voltage. The schematic of a generic differential amplifier. this is sometimes done when comparators are used for digital logic. Figure 3. In fact. Vcc is output. A comparator does what its name suggests. V. nor is it necessary that the negative node have a negative voltage. A schematic for a comparator can be found in Figure 4. ๐‘‰๐‘œ ๐‘…๐‘“ ๐บ๐‘Ž๐‘–๐‘› = = (3) ๐‘‰๐‘– ๐‘…1 For Equation 3 to be valid Rf must equal R2 as stated in Figure 3. ๐‘‰+ > ๐‘‰โˆ’ โ†’ ๐‘‰๐‘œ = ๐‘‰๐‘๐‘ (4) ๐‘‰+ < ๐‘‰โˆ’ โ†’ ๐‘‰๐‘œ = โˆ’๐‘‰๐‘๐‘ (5) In Equation 4 and 5. V+ represents the op ampโ€™s positive terminal voltage.represents the op ampโ€™s negative terminal voltage and Vo represents the op ampโ€™s output. Vi would simply be expressed as a negative number. Another op amp configuration. One could construct a circuit where Vcc is equal to 5 V and โ€“Vcc is equal to 0 V. If the positive terminal has a higher voltage than the negative terminal. and the final one this paper will consider is a comparator. a different. it compares its positive terminal voltage to its negative terminal voltage. This problem is rare. the negative node can even have a higher voltage than the positive node. While it has not yet been mentioned. it is important to note that the magnitude of Vcc and the magnitude of โ€“Vcc are not necessarily equal. The gain of the differential amplifier can be expressed as seen in Equation 3. It is not necessary that the positive node have a positive voltage. in this case. as well as more complex. in fact. equation would express the gain of the op amp. and simpler solutions can often rectify the same problem. -Vcc is output. The only time these resistor values are not equal is when the node voltages need to be weighted differently before the difference between them is taken. If the negative terminal is higher than the positive.

Vo was then measured using an oscilloscope. rather than V+ and V. To make sure the circuit was . Once the circuit was built. This assumption is really a set of 3 assumptions. The first assumption is that the input impedance of the op amp is infinite. a function generator was used to drive the circuit with a sinusoidal wave. various experiments were conducted with all of the previously mentioned op amps. a 1000 ohm resistor was placed in series with a 2000 ohm resistor and the output voltage nodes were taken to be in parallel with the 1000 ohm resistor.4 In order to verify the operation of the buffer amplifier. In order to accomplish this. these voltages were provided using a DC power supply. ๐‘‰๐‘– > 0 โ†’ ๐‘‰0 = ๐‘‰๐‘๐‘ (6) ๐‘‰๐‘– < 0 โ†’ ๐‘‰0 = โˆ’๐‘‰๐‘๐‘ (7) The equations above all assume that the op amp being used is ideal. This process was conducted at four different input voltages. These values were then tabulated and compared to the theoretical gain of 10. a voltage divider network was constructed. Vcc and โ€“Vcc were set to 15 V and -15 V respectively.4 was built instead. This was accomplished by using a 9400 ohm resistor for R2 and a 1000 ohm resistor for R1. For all of the following tests. Figure 4. In reality. Also. Since Figure 4 references the input voltages as a difference. Procedure In order to verify that all of the aforementioned theories and equations are correct. Equations 4 and 5 have been transformed into Equations 6 and 7. but if the op amp and its surrounding circuitry are designed correctly the impact of these non-idealities is minimal.directly. but since no resistors were readily available that would make that happen. The objective of this voltage divider was to have a 5 V output with a 15 V input. In order to test the non-inverting op amp. the peak voltage obtained was then recorded and compared to the peak input voltage supplied by the function generator. The goal was to have the gain of the circuit be 10. when an op amp is used it is a 741 op amp. The output resistance of the function generator was assumed to be negligible. none of these are true. a circuit was built as seen in Figure 1. The final assumption is that the op amp acts as an ideal voltage source. The second assumption is that the output impedance of the op amp is zero. which are expressed in terms of Vi. A schematic of an op amp-based comparator. a circuit with a gain of 10. Vi. and the experimental gain for each input voltage was calculated using Equation 1.

Then the output voltage of circuit was measured by finding the voltage across the 2000 ohm load resistor. This value was then compared to the theoretical gain of 50. The Vi terminals were connected to each side of the 1000 ohm resistor and the 2000 ohm load resistor was moved so that it went across the Vo terminals. the load resistance that would drop the output voltage to 75% of its no-load value needed to be calculated.functioning properly the circuit was driven with a DC power supply set to 15 V and the voltage across the 1000 ohm resistor was measured using a DMM. This would effectively reduce the resistance of the 1000 ohm resistor to 666 ohms. The circuit that was built can be seen in Figure 5 and it is an application of the circuit seen in Figure 3. however. This was done to ensure that the logic above was correct and indeed it was. these voltages were provided using a DC power supply. there was no way to measure this voltage directly. In order to achieve a gain of 50 Equation 3 was used to calculate resistor values. Convenient resistor values were 1000 ohms for R1 and 50. Vcc and โ€“Vcc were set to 15 V and -15 V respectively. these voltages were provided using a DC power supply. So Vs was measured. this value was then compared to the two previous output voltages found. and a calculated value for Vi was used. Now the buffer amp was ready to be used. Figure 5. A 2000 ohm resistor was placed in parallel with the 1000 ohm resistor and the output voltage was measured again. which was provided by the function generator.0099 (8) Vi was then compared to Vo in order to find the circuitโ€™s experimental gain. This voltage needed to be compared to the input voltage. and 1/4 is 75% of 1/3. The circuit was then driven with a 1 Vpp 1 kHz sinusoidal wave. The differential amplifier was tested by seeing if it could apply a gain of 50 to an output signal of a voltage divider. A buffer amplifier was constructed as seen in Figure 2.000 ohm resistors in parallel).000 ohms for R2 and Rf (this resistance was accomplished by placing two 100. The resistor value needed was 2000 ohms. Then. A schematic for the circuitry used when testing the differential amplifier. This would cause only a quarter of the input voltage to be output. . The output voltage of the circuit was then measured using an oscilloscope. Vi was calculated according to Equation 8. Vcc and โ€“Vcc were set to 15 V and -15 V respectively. 100 ๐‘‰๐‘– = ๐‘‰๐‘  โˆ— 10100 = ๐‘‰๐‘  โˆ— .

The reference voltage was then varied and the response of the comparator was observed using the oscilloscope. The function generator was then set to drive the circuit with a 3. The adjustable reference voltage was achieved by attaching the DC power supply to a potentiometer. Then the experimenter switched the roles of the input terminals by connecting the positive lead of the function generator to the negative terminal of the op amp and connecting the grounded lead to the positive terminal of the op amp. The schematic for the circuit built can be found in Figure 6. The comparator was then modified to include a reference voltage. The specific reference voltage at any given time was obtained using a DMM.The comparator op amp was then tested. Figure 7. He then observed how the oscilloscope plot changed from the first phase of the experiment. In order to accomplish this the circuit seen in Figure 7 was built. Vcc and โ€“Vcc were set to 5 V and -5 V respectively.2 V base-to-peak sinusoidal wave. Figure 6. The V i terminals were attached to the function generator. The purpose of this addition was to make the comparator indicate whether or not the voltage of the input was greater than the included reference voltage. these voltages were provided using a DC power supply. A comparator was built according to Figure 4. The experimenter then drove the circuit with a sinusoidal wave and observed both the input and the output of the circuit using an oscilloscope. The final phase of the experiment was to add red and green LEDโ€™s to the circuit that would indicate whether the input voltage was greater or less than the reference voltage. The modified comparator circuit used for the third phase of the comparator experimentation. The comparator circuit built that included LEDs .

Results Non-inverting Amplifier Data Table 1.5 1 1. The data gathered for the experiment concerning the non-inverting amplifier. both the reference voltage and the frequency of the driving voltage were varied independently and the different behavior of the LEDs was noted. .4 V 5.A 1000 ohm resistor was placed in series with each of the LEDs to ensure they would not burn out. Once again the function generator was set to drive the circuit with a 3. The reference voltage of the circuit was then set to 0 V and the initial response of the circuit was observed.13% 3.2 V peak-to-peak sinusoidal wave. A graphic representation of the data found in Table 1.29 49.560 V 5.38% 2.5 4 Input Voltage (Vi) Figure 8. This was done to 1) make sure the circuit was still functioning properly and 2) to compare the output of the circuit to the behavior of the LEDs. Then. The measured gain was calculated using Equation 1 and the expected gain was 10.68 V 10.67% Non-inverting Amplifier Behavior 16 14 12 Output Voltage (Vo) 10 8 6 4 2 0 0 0.72 V 14.09 60.4 V 10.5 3 3. the oscilloscope was still being used to monitor the output voltage of the comparator.10 V 11. While these observations were taking place.4 V 4.32 0.5 2 2.36 0.52 V 14.77% 1.4 Input Voltage (Vi) Output Voltage (Vo) Measured Gain Percent Error for Gain 0.

No Load Output Voltage Output Voltage When Loaded Output Voltage With Buffer Amp 5. The data gathered for the experiment concerning the differential amplifier.00 V 3. Differential Amplifier Data Table 2. The tops of the waves are clipped due to the limitations imposed by Vcc and โ€“Vcc. Source Voltage (Vs) Calculated Input Voltage (Vi) Output Voltage (Vo) Gain 1.94 Percent of No Load Value 76. The data gathered for the experiment concerning the buffer amplifier.82 V 4. The oscilloscope plot when the non-inverting amplifier circuit was driven with a 3.20 0.86% Buffer Amplifier Data Table 3. The gain was calculated using Equation 1 and the expected gain was 50.4% 98. Figure 9.0119 0.584 49.8% .52 V sinusoidal wave.07 Percent Error 1.

Comparator Data Figures 10 (left) and 11 (right). The exact opposite is true for Figure 11. The oscilloscope plots for the first and second phase of the comparator experiment respectively. The reference voltage for each figure can be found in Table 4. Figures 12-15. The blue line in Figure 10 is the input and the yellow is the output. The oscilloscope plots for the phase of the comparator experiment that included the adjustable reference voltage. .

it happens relatively quickly. it was assumed the op amp had no output resistance. In Figure 10 the comparator outputs approximately Vcc when Vi is positive and approximately โ€“Vcc when Vi is negative. This behavior is exactly what is expected and thus the experiment can be considered a success. The data found in Table 2 is straightforward. Figure 11 is different from Figure 10 in that approximately Vcc is output when Vi is negative rather than positive. While this is a good assumption. while the third and fourth result have enormous error values. The slope of the curve from the origin to the second data point is constant and it has a value of 10. In other words. Since the gain of the device was 10. which effectively flips the greater than and less than signs around. Most notably. The calculated input voltage was obtained by using Equation 8. This is due to the change in the roll of the input terminals. This may cause some people to feel like the non-inverting amplifier acted unpredictably and the theory behind the equations was incorrect. While this change is not instant. The purpose of this addition was to have the comparator indicate whether or not the voltage . The reason Vcc and โ€“Vcc are never exactly reached is due to some parasitic resistance within the 741 comparator. The loss went from 23. the amplifier still achieved its purpose and thus the experiment can be considered a success. Table 4. Figures 12-15 show the behavior of the comparator when the adjustable reference voltage was added. This action applies a negative sign to both Equation 6 and Equation 7. One has to remember that Vcc and โ€“Vcc were set to ยฑ 15 V. and thus the error due to slightly incorrect resistances would be compounded. With this in mind the behavior of the comparator in the first and second phase of the experiment is exactly what is expected. This is clear evidence that the buffer amplifier successfully blocked the load resistance from effecting the operation of the voltage divider. The reference voltages for Figures 12-15. This is the functional limit for the output of the device. Vo cannot have a magnitude greater than 15 V.5 V Conclusions At first glance the data in found in Table 1 seems very inconclusive. The buffer amp significantly decreased the voltage loss due to the load resistance. this. This is most likely what caused the output voltage of the buffer amplifier to be slightly lower than the expected value. The error of 1.2%. and approximately โ€“Vcc is output with Vi is positive rather than negative. This behavior is exactly what is predicted by Equations 6 and 7. however.86% can be accounted for by two factors: 1) The resistors used had error tolerances of ยฑ 1% and 2) the input voltage could not be directly determined. The plots from the first two phases of the comparator experimentation show the expected behavior of a comparator. is not the case. The gain that was observed was close to what was expected. Proof of this is seen in Figure 8. it is not actually true. The first and second data point follow the expected result nearly perfectly.4. it is clear that the buffer amplifier achieved its purpose in a very effective fashion. If these two points are ignored the op amp behaved nearly ideally.4 V/V. The 1. The data found in Table 3 is fairly conclusive. any input voltage above 1. Regardless of this non-ideality. Figure 12 Figure 13 Figure 14 Figure 15 Reference Voltage โ€“2 V 0V 2. Even though there were noticeable sources of error. and thus the experiment can be considered a success. This causes the measured gain to not reach its theoretical value and this behavior can be observed in Table 1 as well as Figure 8.6% to only 1.5 V 3.2% loss is likely due to some non-idealities in the op amp.44 V will be clipped as seen in Figure 9.

the comparator behaved as expected for all phases of the experiment and thus it can be considered a success. The reference voltage was then turned up to around 2 V. This behavior is exactly what is expected. Figure 6 can be simplified as Figure 4.at any moment in time was greater than or less than the reference voltage. This is exactly the behavior expected from the circuit. In a similar way as before. Once the LEDs were added as seen in Figure 7 they began to blink on and off rapidly. the only change caused by raising the frequency to 1 kHz was the on/off cycles of the LEDs were shorter. So the experimenter turned the frequency of the input wave down to 1 Hz. The response of the comparator is not based on frequency so changing the frequency of the input signal should have minimal effects on the output. the experimenter set the reference voltage of the circuit to 0. Figure 13 looks very similar to Figure 10. Figure 14 can be used to describe this behavior. When Table 4 and Figures 12-15 are used together this is the behavior that is observed. This is expected because the reference voltage was at negative two volts. but the reason for this error is the same as in the previous sections of this experiment. The reason the red light was only on for a brief amount of time is because according to Figure 7 it will be on when the output voltage is positive. therefore. when the reference voltage was positive the green LED was on longer and when it was negative the red was on longer. While the cycles happened faster. Figure 15 predicts the behavior perfectly. Finally. the behavior of the circuit generally was the same. if it is less than one can expect โ€“Vcc to be output. This can be seen in Figure 10 and 11 the comparator actually took a small amount of time to switch from low to high and this is why the input wave and the output wave donโ€™t actually intersect at 0 V. however. Figure 13 can be used to explain this behavior because in Figure 13 the reference voltage was also zero. Finally. In summary. furthermore. the respective on and off times were not changed. Now that the behavior of the LEDs was understood at low frequencies the frequency of the circuit was turned back up to 1 kHz and the same reference voltages were tested. and thus the output was โ€“Vcc for the entirety of the waveform. and this is why the lights switched on and off approximately every half-second (at a frequency of 1 Hz each wave will occupy 1 second). the input was never greater than the reference voltage. In reality the op amp does need a small amount of time to respond.2 V the expected LED stayed lit as it did at 1 Hz. Then. The time the output wave is high and low are approximately equal. when the reference voltage was 0 V the LEDS were on for the same amount of time. the reference voltage was turned all the way up to 5 V. which makes sense because when the reference voltage is 0. the green LED was off and vice-versa. and thus the input will be above the reference voltage most of the time. First. The data collected for the LED phase of the experiment was entirely qualitative and will be discussed below. too rapidly for any visual observations to take place. when the red LED was on. the output becomes low right when the input falls below two volts. Figure 15 looks different from the rest of the plots because the output never switches signs. At this state the LEDs blinked on and off approximately every half-second. Once this happened the green LED was on for the majority of the cycle and the red LED was on for only a fraction of the time. This would not be true if the frequency of the input was extremely high. When this was done the green LED stayed on and the red LED stayed off. In Figure 12 the output is high for most of the waveform. Nonetheless. The error pertaining to the output of Vcc and โ€“Vcc can be observed again. . if the reference voltage was put above or below ยฑ3. the reference voltage was set to -2 V and the exact opposite behavior was witnessed. At this speed the behavior of the LEDs was clear. Additionally. Figure 14 looks roughly like the opposite of Figure 12. which makes sense because the reference voltages for each plot are near opposites of each other. Upon a closer look one can see that the output in Figure 14 appears to only be high when the input is above 2. Figure 14 shows that when the reference voltage is around 2 V the output will only be high for a small portion of the waveform. The same logic applies to this situation except Figure 12 should be used rather than Figure 14.5 V. This is because the reference voltage was greater than the peak value of the input wave. If it is greater one can expect Vcc to be output. In other words.

However there were a few limitations realized of the 741 op amp. This paper considered just a handful of these. it did occasionally lower the output voltage of an amplifier configuration. and the errors this internal resistance caused were minimal. but the utility of op amps was made apparent quickly. So it is something that an engineer working with op amps should be aware of. So if the required voltage output of an amplifier is greater than the maximum admissible power supply voltages.Since all of the experiments conducted were considered successful. they will be able to use their knowledge in a wide array of scenarios and can be of value to any team of engineers. but in most situations it can be ignored. one cannot give infinite amounts of voltage to these nodes without destroying the op amp. even if an engineer only understands the basics of op amp design and implementation. The 741 op amp has a particularly high internal resistance in comparison to other modern op amps. this either needs to be designed around. Therefore. or a different op amp with a wider range of acceptable voltage needs to be used. Additionally. The most prominent limitation is that the output of the op amp cannot be above Vcc or below โ€“Vcc. all of the Equations derived in the Introduction are well supported with empirical evidence. Another limitation of the 741 op amp that was realized was its internal resistance. . While it was small. As stated in the Introduction op amps have many different configuration and applications.