General Lab Equipment Obstacle Course

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A general primer in important equipment in a scientific laboratory.


This module will teach you about how to use the Fluke 179 True RMS multimeter. For this, you will need:

  • Rigola DP1308A DC Power Supply
  • Rigola DG1022 Function Generator
  • An assortment of short wires
  • 3 Resistors: 500ohm, 1kohm, 2kohm
  • 3 Capacitors:
  • A diode:
  • A breadboard (or protoboard)

You'll learn more about the Power Supply and Function Generator later, but we'll need a minimum of functionality from them to make measurements with the multimeter.

  • Measuring voltage
    Connect two probes to the right most inputs to the multimeter. I would recommend using probes with pointed tips or alligator clips at the end. The bottom input is the common/ground input and the upper right input is the voltage/resistance/diode. input. For simplicity, I'll refer to the probe connected to the voltage/resistance/diode input as the "red" probe and the probe connected to the ground input as the "black" probe. Turn the dial on the multimeter so that it points to V (with a line/dashed line over it) . This mode measures constant (DC) voltages, or will measure the RMS voltage of an alternating current. It measures the voltage difference between the top input and the common input (Vmeas = Vtop - Vbottom).
    1. To verify this, touch your two probes together. What does the meter read? Does this make sense? What is the voltage difference between two points without any resistance between them?

    Now, turn on the power supply. Hopefully, the yellow box on the screen will be highlighted. If not, press the +25V button on the power supply (above the yellow line) to change to that output. Press the left most button under the screen, so that VOLT is highlighted. This will give you control over the voltage output of the power supply. You can verify this by seeing that one of the numbers in the voltage box has turned white.

    Connect the positive output of the power supply (yellow) to one row of inputs on the breadboard and the common output of the power supply (labelled as "COM") to another row. Between these two rows, plug in the 1kohm resistor.

    Turn on the yellow output by pressing the center ON/OFF button (under the yellow box). The black OFF box at the top of the yellow window should change to a green ON box. Use the right/left arrows on the directional control buttons to highlight the tenths digit of the voltage line. Use the up/down buttons to change the voltage output to 00.50V. The box should be out putting half a voltage now.

    1. To verify this, touch the red probe to one end of the 1kohm resistor and the black probe to the other end. What does the multimeter read? If it reads 0.00, make sure the connections to the power supply are secure.
    2. If you flip the locations of the probe, what do you think will happen? Take a guess, then try it.

    Replace the 2kohm resistor with the 500ohm resistor and 2kohm resistor in series (that is, end-to-end so current flows through one and then the other).

    1. Using your knowledge of resistors in series, what do you think the voltage dropped across the 500ohm resistor will be? What about the 2kohm resistor?
    2. Measure the voltage across each resistor separately (place the probes on either side of one resistor, then on either side of the other). Were your guesses correct?

    Change the dial on the multimeter to the mV symbol with the line and dashed line over it. This is the millivolte measuring mode. It measures voltages the same as the voltage mode, but it reports results in millivolts and gives more accurate measurements for small voltages.

    1. Measure the voltages across the resistor pairs again. Do you get what you'd expect in mV?
  • Measuring current (check that fuse isn't blown!)
  • To measure current, you need to use either of the left inputs and the common input to the multimeter. Both of the left inputs measure currents that flow INto these inputs and then OUT of the common input (black probe). This means the multimeter must be in-line with the current to measure it. The top-left input measures currents up to 400mA and the bottom one can measure currents up to 10A. The dial on the multimeter must be turned to the A (with line and dashed line) setting or the mA (with line and dashed line) setting. Like voltage, one will measure in A and the other in milliamps.

    1. Based on what you know about electronics, how much current should traveling through the resistors?

    As mentioned above, current measurements are done in-line. To do this, break the connection between the two resistors. Touch one multimeter probe to the free end of one resistor and the other probe to the free end of the other resistor. Turn the multimeter dial to the mA setting.

    1. Change the mutlimeter to the mA setting. Does the reading agree with your prediction?
    2. Switch the probes. How does the current measurement change? Does this make sense?

    Now, put the 1kohm and 2okhm resistors in parallel with the power supply lines.

    1. Measure the total current drawn from the power supply. To do this, attach one multimeter probe to the the output of the power supply and the other probe to the ends of both resistors.
    2. Now measure the current through just one of the resistors in parallel. To do this, unattach one resistor from the probe and attach the free end directly to the power supply line.
    3. Using what you know about current, predict the current in the other resistor. Then measure it. does your measurement match your prediction?

  • Measuring resistance and testing for continuity

  • Diode check
  • AC signals, frequency response
  • Capacitance
  • Clamp meter

Power Supplies

  • Digital and Analog
  • Floating and grounding
  • Current/voltage limiting

Function Generators

(Should look at this in tandem with the following oscilloscope discussion)

  • Frequency, amplitude, offset, phase
  • Frequency sweep/ramp
  • Sine, square (incl. TTL), triangle, sawtooth, arbitrary waveforms (possibly a demonstration of Fourier components)


  • Voltage/time scale
  • Coupling
  • Triggering
  • Scope probes
  • Termination
  • Bandwidth, sampling
  • Aliasing
  • Analyzing data: cursors, averaging, math menu
  • Exporting data
  • Analog and digital scopes

RF Signals

  • Measuring RF power
  • Termination and impedance matching
  • Attenuation and filtering
  • Splitters, mixers, and switches

Lock-in Amplifier

  • Basic idea of operation; reason for using
  • Use switch to turn on and off a highly attenuated signal and detect it with the lock-in

Frequency Counters

Measure the frequency of an RF source; map frequency vs. voltage curve of a voltage controlled oscillator (VCO)

RF Spectrum Analyzer

Always be careful to ensure signal input to spectrum analyzer is not too large

  • What does a spectrum analyzer do?
  • Attach wire-loop antenna and find radio stations
  • Mix two RF signals and observe the expected spectrum
  • Measuring amplitude of signal above background
  • Save and export data


  • Soldering technique
    • Cleaning iron tip
    • Heat pieces to be soldered (hot iron, short time)
    • Avoid cold solder joints
    • Look for shiny and smooth result
  • Tools of the trade: heatshrink tubing, desoldering pump, solder wick, wire strippers, soldering gun, heat gun, rosin flux
  • Solder end of DB9 cable (using only 4 or 5 conductors) to practice stripping wire, using heatshrink tubing, and creating usable product
  • Construct voltage divider on perfboard with BNC input/output connectors