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Visual Circuits

Voltage and current made visible.
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Electronic circuits can get complex in a hurry. Over the years I've searched for ways to show the dynamics of circuits, but have never been very happy with my attempts. Here is another attempt. See link below to a Java applet I wrote to do it (very simple so far).

Moving dots (representing electrons) show the flow of current. The speed and direction of motion corresponds to the current magnitude and direction. Color of background shows voltage, with darkest red highest positive voltage, fading to light red down to white for zero voltage, then going to light blue for negative voltage, dark blue for most negative. Voltages are with reference to ground point shown on the schematic.

Pictures of magnifying glasses placed at schematic circuit lines are to convey that we are looking at "close-up views" while all the schematic elements show the components such as resistors, capacitors, transistors, and so on.

This type of observation of circuit behavior is meant to supplement the more detailed (but more fragmented) oscilloscope plots of voltage vs time and current vs time for specific points in a circuit. If we can use our great ability to assimilate visual information in this type of observation, perhaps we can more quickly develop a strong mental picture of how op amps, zener diodes, mosfets, etc work together in circuits.
flypaper, Sep 29 2003

Visual Circuit Demo http://home.earthli...ts/Joel_Circuit.htm
Java applet. I only did one circuit so far. Need Java-enabled browser to view. [flypaper, Oct 04 2004, last modified Aug 07 2009]

Halfbakery: Scope bath http://www.halfbake...m/idea/Scope_20bath
Circa Dec 01 | A novel, if somewhat implausible, approach to visualization of circuit behavior. [bristolz, Oct 04 2004]

Altium's Circuit Maker Sim http://www.circuitmaker.com/
A virtual, and visual, approach. [bristolz, Oct 04 2004]

Visual Circuit Demo -screen shot http://home.earthli...emo_screen_shot.GIF
Here is .GIF image of program, in case Java applet doesn't run on your PC [flypaper, Oct 04 2004, last modified Aug 07 2009]

Sun's Java link http://java.sun.com/products/plugin/
to download Java2 plug-in [flypaper, Oct 04 2004]

More accurate picture of electrons http://ourworld.cs....mages/electrons.GIF
[Rods Tiger] is right, I believe this is closer to what really happens. Ref: Basic Electronics for Scientists, James Brophy, 1966, McGraw-Hill,p. 6. [flypaper, Oct 04 2004]

"Visible Electricity" device http://www.amasci.c...elect/viselect.html
Here's the real-world version. Arbor Scientific, $80 each. (Or build your own from PCB patterns) LEDs operated as a "chaselight" represent the charges within the wires. [wbeaty, Oct 04 2004]

Visual Circuit Demo, downloadable http://home.earthli...its/CircuitDemo.zip
java application rather than applet, per [Detly]'s post [flypaper, Oct 04 2004, last modified Aug 07 2009]

Analog circuit simulator http://www.falstad.com/circuit/
Moving dots show the flow of current? [omegatron, May 16 2005]

Visual circuits 2 Visual circuits 2
View the actual circuit, not a simulation [omegatron, Jun 01 2005]

Additional Circuit http://diyexperimen...om/Joel_Circuit.htm
Improved visual circuit demo available to download, this time as Windows app, JoCirc2.exe [flypaper, Jul 18 2013]

[link]






       In other words, I'm aware that there are dozens of circuit simulation and design programs, but I'm looking for the Gestalt view to add gut feel to learning about electronics.
flypaper, Sep 29 2003
  

       Can you provide a link to a downloadable file for that applet? My browser/network/whatever has a problem with applets, but it sounds interesting.
Detly, Sep 29 2003
  

       [Detly] [webchat] and [Qnow] Sorry, I mean, not just Java enabled, but your browser must be able to run Java2 applets.
If it doesn't, try going to the Sun link at left to download the Java2 plug-in.
I believe even if I made it a downloadable application, you would still need Java2 version of Java Virtual Machine on your system.
flypaper, Sep 30 2003
  

       Am I missing something or is this idea baked from the start?
Cedar Park, Sep 30 2003
  

       Excellent observation [Rods Tiger]. I believe you are describing what the link at left shows. Of course, I'm also wrong in saying "representing electrons" and then showing them going in the positive to negative direction! But I needed to have something moving representing current, so I used dots. I started with randomly placed dots, then changed to uniform spacing to make the required displacement of the bitmaps shorter because you can do a short movement and then restart and it looks continuous. Well, except for flicker.
[Detly] I see what you are saying, I should be able to do that. (Rummages for Java2 book).
[Cedar Park] I downloaded Atium's trial software, (thanks for that link, [bristoltz]). The software looks good, like many others. But the only simulation I saw there has the probe and oscilloscope type display, which is typical of what I've seen elsewhere. I'm looking for a supplement to that, another view of overall qualitative "this goes up, that down, that stopped, " type of view. The more components in the circuit, the more I think that would help understanding.
flypaper, Oct 01 2003
  

       I like this. Something so visual might have helped me get past a rather unpleasant op amps mental block some years ago. Might have saved a few forehead shaped dents in my whiteboard, too.
half, Oct 01 2003
  

       The "charging capacitor" demo looks pretty good with my LED chaselight thingy (just use a 1 farad supercapacitor for slow charging, and a hand-crank generator for some direct experience.)   

       Even better is a generator, full-wave bridge rectifier, and filter capacitor, with all of the wires replaced with chains of crawling LED patterns. Only trouble is, this vesion only can display current, not voltage. (Well, the REAL trouble is that the dang things are $80 each. Software is definitely the way to go.)
wbeaty, Oct 01 2003
  

       If I may add: I would suggest a small graph facility. showing voltage (or current) over time between two nodes (through a node). That way, the charge buildup or manifestation of a magnetic field can be seen in transient (capacitor & inductor) circuits.
Jinbish, Oct 01 2003
  

       [Detly] if you go to link above, about 3/4 down the page you can download CircuitDemo.zip. Then after you unzip, if you run "java JFrame" from the command line, it should run. Well ,it did run on my machine. I didn't use jar archiving, as I couldn't get it to work. Would be happy to have suggestions for improvements.
flypaper, Oct 01 2003
  

       Great link, [wbeaty]. I can see definitely you baked this in hardware years ago, from your link, including at the end of your device description, the addition of voltage shown by LED color change. I want to call everyone's attention to where you say in "Device Construction Info" , if I may quote: "Exhibit designers who are familiar with electronics sometimes fall into the trap believing that the general public also has their skills, and so designers include all sorts of digital and needle-meters as part of a display. But the unskilled public sees a meter needle in quite a different way than an electronics specialist does, and meter readings usually serve more to obscure and complex-ify the exhibit than to reveal and enlighten."
Bravo! This is exactly what I'd like to see remedied.
Gotta go for now. Thanks.
flypaper, Oct 01 2003
  

       Thanks, [flypaper] :) I like it.
Detly, Oct 01 2003
  

       Sorry links broke for awhile, since last fall. Fixed now.
flypaper, Aug 07 2009
  
      
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