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© University of Houston

Signature _________________________________________________________

ECE 3155

Experiment IV

ACTIVE NONLINEAR CIRCUITS

Rev. lpt oct 2011

Introduction

As we have already seen in this course, it is common for engineers to simplify their

problems by treating them as linear processes. This is largely due to a wish for a simple world that

can be easily expressed in mathematical terms. However, there are several areas where the

problems that we deal with are inherently nonlinear. Conceptually, these areas include situations

where something turns on and off. A digital circuit is just one example.

The purpose of this experiment is to help you explore several important nonlinear circuits

that form the basis of much of the electronic circuitry in use today. These circuits are the

comparator, the limiter, the bistable circuit, and the astable multivibrator. This experiment will also

introduce a measurement technique that is very useful in measuring transfer characteristics. This

technique makes use of the x-y capability of your oscilloscope.

With the exception of Step 7, each of the measurements in this lab will utilize the x-y

format to generate a transfer function. To do this, press DISPLAY on the oscilloscope front panel.

One of the options you see along the right side of the screen will be labeled “Format” and there will

be two choices. One is YT, which is the usual voltage vs. time display of the scope. The other is the

XY format. In this format, the oscilloscope gives you a “plot” generated by using channel 1 as the

x-axis and channel 2 as the y-axis. The vertical sensitivity knobs allow you to adjust the voltages

corresponding to “full scale” horizontally (x-direction) or vertically (y-direction).

To get the transfer characteristics for your circuits, set the function generator for a triangular

wave output of zero mean value, that is, with no DC component. Use a peak-to-peak value of

20[V], and a pulse repetition rate of several hundred [Hz]. Apply the output of the function

generator to the x input (channel 1), and to the input of the circuit to be tested. Then apply the

output of the circuit to the y input (channel 2). If now the XY format is selected, the oscilloscope

will display the circuit transfer characteristic. Adjust the vertical sensitivity so that the vertical axis

University of Houston ECE 3155 – Exp. IV Active Nonlinear Circuits

© University of Houston

will display the desired voltage range, which is –15[V] to +15[V] in this exercise. This axis will be

used to display the output voltage of the circuit, which will typically be limited to the saturation

voltages of the operational amplifiers (op amps) used in the experiment. The horizontal sensitivity

should be adjusted to display the desired range of the input voltage, which in this case will be –

20[V] to +20[V].

The repetition rate you use for your triangle wave can affect your results in some cases.

This is due to the non-ideal properties of the op amps. As you perform the experiment, vary the

repetition rate, and note the effects. In general you will find that the behavior is more ideal at lower

frequencies, but as the repetition rate gets very low the display will flicker. Pick a frequency that is

a reasonable compromise between these two considerations.

Components Required

1 1N5227 Zener diode

Assorted resistors and capacitors from the lab kit

1 741 op amp

Pre-Lab

1. Step 3: Design the circuit of Figure 3, choosing values for VDC, R1, R2, and Rf as instructed in

that step.

2. Step 5: Design the circuit of Figure 6; that is, choose a value for R1 to satisfy the specifications

in that step.

3. Step 6: Design the astable multivibrator of step 6 based on the specifications in that step.

Procedure

The Comparator and the Limiter

The comparator and the limiter perform slightly different tasks, but have the same general

transfer characteristic, which is shown in Figure 1. The comparator generates one output when the

input is lower than a certain input value, and another when it is higher than that value. The limiter

is a circuit with gain that limits the output to some maximum and minimum values. In Figure 1, Vr

is the voltage to be compared to the input of the comparator, and VSAT+ and VSAT- are the output

values. For the limiter, VSAT+ and VSAT- are the minimum and maximum values.

2

University of Houston ECE 3155 – Exp. IV Active Nonlinear Circuits

© University of Houston

vOUT

VSAT+

vIN

Vr

VSAT-

It is easy to control all the parameters of this transfer characteristic independently. That is, you may

set the positive and negative saturation voltages VSAT- and VSAT+, the slope of the linear transition

region, and the offset voltage Vr, assuming that they are within the capability of the active element.

The most basic circuit for accomplishing this is shown in Figure 2. This as an ordinary op amp-

based amplifier. In this case, the active element is the op amp.

Rf

Ri

vI

vO

When used as a comparator, the circuit is meant to function with a range of input voltages

such that the amplifier output exceeds the linear part of the transfer characteristic and becomes

“clamped” to either its maximum positive value or its maximum negative value. The maximum

values are the positive and negative saturation voltages of the op amp.

1. Build the circuit of Figure 2. Apply power supply voltages of–15[V] and +15[V] to the op

amp. Use Ri = 1[k], and a feedback resistor Rf1 such that the slope of the linear part of the transfer

3

University of Houston ECE 3155 – Exp. IV Active Nonlinear Circuits

© University of Houston

characteristic is -10. Measure and plot the transfer characteristic of the circuit on a piece of graph

paper. Measure and mark the amplifier saturation voltages clearly and carefully. You will be

plotting a number of transfer characteristics on this graph. Plot them neatly, and label each one

carefully. Record your value of Rf1 below.

Rf1 =

2. Choose a new feedback resistor Rf2 such that the slope of the linear part of the transfer

characteristic is -100. Measure and plot this function on your graph paper. Record your value of Rf2

below.

Rf2 =

3. An offset voltage Vr may be applied to the circuit at either the inverting or noninverting

inputs. For our purposes this is most easily done at the noninverting input, because a voltage

divider may be used. Construct the circuit shown in Figure 3, designing the indicated offset voltage

Vr to be 4.7[V] using the voltage divider formed by R1, R2, and VDC. To choose appropriate

component values, think of the voltage divider in terms of its Thevenin equivalent. Set the slope to

-27, with Ri = 1[k]. Measure the transfer characteristic and plot it on your graph paper. Record

your value of Rf as Rf3 below.

Rf3=

Rf

Ri

vI

R1 vO

VDC R2

The circuit of Figure 2 compares the input voltage to zero volts. The circuit of Figure 3

compares the input voltage to +4.7[V], and specifies its relationship to that voltage, thus the name

comparator. Analyze the circuit to understand exactly how it functions.

4

University of Houston ECE 3155 – Exp. IV Active Nonlinear Circuits

© University of Houston

4. The circuits used in Steps 1 through 3 use the saturation voltages of the op amp to limit the

output voltages. The output may be limited to voltages smaller than these saturation voltages by

introducing fixed voltage drop elements in the op amp feedback loop. For example, the circuit

shown in Figure 4 uses a zener diode in the feedback loop to limit the positive output excursion to

approximately +0.7 V, and the negative output voltage to -VZ, the Zener voltage.

Construct the circuit of Figure 4 with a 1N5227 Zener diode in the feedback loop. Measure

and plot the transfer characteristic on your graph paper. Reverse the direction of the Zener diode

and repeat this step. To understand the operation of the Zener diode, remember that the forward

biased model of the Zener diode is (approximately) a 0.7[V] source, and that of the reverse-biased

Zener with sufficient applied potential is a source of value -VZ.

Ri

vI

vO

5. A comparator can be designed with a hysteresis loop in the transfer characteristic. A

comparator with such a loop is frequently called a Schmidt Trigger circuit in honor of Dr. Otto

Schmidt, its inventor. The transfer function of such a circuit is shown in Figure 5. The “loop”

aspect of this transfer characteristic, indicating a different path for up-going and down-going

signals, resembles the B-H hysteresis loop of ferromagnetic materials; hence its name.

5

University of Houston ECE 3155 – Exp. IV Active Nonlinear Circuits

© University of Houston

vOUT

vT1 vT2

vIN

The circuit that produces this transfer characteristic is shown in Figure 6. Functionally it is

almost identical to that of Figure 3, a comparator with offset. Here, the slope of the linear part of

the transfer characteristic is equal to the op amp gain, i.e., it is very high. This is done by setting

Rf = and Ri = 0. The offset voltage is derived from the output saturation voltage, so that if the

output is at VSAT+, the offset is at VSAT+ {R2/(R1 + R2)}; if the output is at VSAT-, the offset is at

VSAT- {R2/(R1 + R2)}.

vI R1 vO

R2

Design a Schmidt Trigger so that the loop back points VT1 and VT2 are 2[V]. Note that the

saturation voltages of a 741 are approximately 1.5[V] away from the supply voltages. Use

R2 = 1[k]. Record your value of R1 below. Construct the circuit, measure its transfer characteristic

and plot it on a new piece of graph paper. Indicate with arrows the directions associated with the

hysteresis.

R1=

6

University of Houston ECE 3155 – Exp. IV Active Nonlinear Circuits

© University of Houston

6. The astable multivibrator is a form of a Schmidt Trigger that utilizes both positive and

negative feedback. Its circuit is shown in Figure 7. This circuit is a Schmidt Trigger, which derives

its input from the output, via the R3C single time constant network. Since the circuit derives its

input from its own output, it requires no external input to have an output. Notice that because of the

capacitor, this circuit does not have negative feedback. You will find when you build this circuit

that the voltages at the inverting input and the non-inverting input are not equal. One way of

looking at this is that because of the capacitor at the inverting input, there is not a signal path from

the output to the inverting input.

R3

C

R1 vO

R2

Your textbook discusses the astable multivibrator in detail, and you should consult it to understand

the working of the circuit and how to do this design. In addition, you should base your design on

the Schmidt Trigger of the previous section, maintaining the 2[V] hysteresis limits, and determine

the proper R3C time delay circuit. (Hint: The Sedra and Smith textbook switches the names of R1

and R2, and defines a variable called in terms of their values. You need to be very careful about

your definitions and names if you use the formula in the textbook.)

R3 =

C=

7

University of Houston ECE 3155 – Exp. IV Active Nonlinear Circuits

© University of Houston

7. Construct the circuit you designed in Step 6. Sketch its output waveform on a new piece of

graph paper. For this part of the experiment, do not use the x-y mode of the oscilloscope. Measure

the period, and calculate the error in that period compared to the period you designed. Explain any

error greater than 10%.

Measured Period =

8

University of Houston ECE 3155 – Exp. IV Active Nonlinear Circuits

© University of Houston

Questions

1. In using the x-y capability of the oscilloscope to display the transfer characteristics of your

circuits, we applied a triangle wave to the input. Why was this waveform used? Would a sine wave

work as well? How about a square wave? You may wish to try this and see what your results would

look like.

2. Describe the effects that you saw on the measured transfer characteristics when you used a

frequency that was too high. What do we call such effects? Can you imagine what might account

for this behavior?

3. Describe in your own words, using complete sentences, the sequence of events in the operation

of your astable multivibrator.

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