Archive for category application notes

Weight gain at NIST

We like to measure things – and NIST is our source of the best measurement advice. We knew that time has been measured with astonishing accuracy, almost 1 part in 10^15.

Graph of atomic clock accuracy at NIST over the years

This shows the improvement in clock accuracy at NIST from 1950 to 2000.

Given how accurately time is measured, we wondered ‘how is the kilogram calibrated?’

We learned that, according to NIST,

“The magnitude of many of the units comprising the SI system of measurement, including most of those used in the measurement of electricity and light, are highly dependent upon the stability of a 131-year-old, golf ball-size cylinder of metal stored in a vault in France”.

And over the years the International Prototype Kilogram, the IPK, and its copies that are distributed around the globe, have ‘gained weight’. There’s more here at wiki:

Here’s the graph to show it:

the weight change over about 100 years of the IPK

Weight change of the standard kilogram and its copies over 100 years.

NIST further explains:

“Mass drift over time of national prototypes K21–K40, plus two of the IPK’s sister copies: K32 and K8(41).[Note 9] All mass changes are relative to the IPK. The initial 1889 starting-value offsets relative to the IPK have been nulled.[12] The above are all relative measurements; no historical mass-measurement data is available to determine which of the prototypes has been most stable relative to an invariant of nature. There is the distinct possibility that all the prototypes gained mass over 100 years and that K21, K35, K40, and the IPK simply gained less than the others”.

Uncertainty,  it seems, is here to stay.

However, there’s an improved kilogram standard being worked on, called the Watt Balance, which measures the electrical power used to null the weight of a one kilogram test specimen. To get accurate results, NIST must establish the gravitational force accurately. Here’s a link to a NIST article describing how they do it:

Which reminds me of a Jim Williams article from Linear Tech, where he describes a VERY accurate electronic weigh scale, capable of measuring your heartbeat – since all the blood pumping and flowing changes your weight, a little bit. He called it a ‘ballisto-cardiogram’. Here’s where you can read more, in AN43 that Jim wrote for Linear Tech, about bridge circuits – including how to make a scale that can resolve 0.01 pound at 300 pounds full scale, or about 33 parts per million. It uses a clever circuit to achieve balance quickly and accurately, check it out:

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Testing Optical Aspheres

Improvements in machining precision, testing and simulation make the use of aspheres available to improve optical system performance.

Most lenses are spherical, in that each curved surface is some part of a sphere (usually a big radius compared to the lens glass diameter). Lately we’ve been working on some systems that require the use of lenses that have an ‘aspheric’ curve. These are more unusual, but if you can solve a problem that is otherwise unsolvable, ‘unusual’ is a good answer. Ok, maybe since I’m the electronics guy, I’m impressed with the precision of these optics and their measurement – I think you’ll be too, when you look into it.

We’ve found some references about designing and testing these asphere elements. Start with the article by Jay Kumler, and  then read the other two about some fancy gear to test these aspheres.

Jay Kumler, Designing and Specifying Aspheres for Manufacturability, by Jay Kumler of Jenoptik-Inc

Interferometric Measurement of Rotationally Symmetric Aspheric Surfaces, by Michael Kuechel of Zygo

Subaperture stitching interferometry of high-departure aspheres by incorporating configurable null optics, by Andrew Kulawiec, Markus Bauer, Gary DeVries, Jon Fleig, Greg Forbes,
Dragisha Miladinovic, Paul Murphy of QED Technologies.

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Radiometry explained by NIST

The measurement of light is complicated by a variety of units and concepts that are not used in other fields. For example, the ‘light level’ could be measured in units appropriate to the sensitivity of our eyes (lux), or by the power level (Watts) – but that’s confounded by the wavelength (nano-meters, but sometimes Angstroms) and you need to think in steradians, etendue must be conserved … you get the idea.

We’ve written about some of these issues in earlier posts, but this is one big, complete reference manual – a kind of ‘everything you wanted to know about light, but were afraid to ask’ – and it’s from NIST. They call it a ‘Self-Study Manual’ and it’s a clearly written tutorial on optical radiometry.

And it’s a free download. Enjoy. The test is Tuesday.

link to NIST Self Study Manual on Optical Radiation

The official title is The Self-Study Manual on Optical Radiation Measurements, edited by Fred Nicodemus

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Radiometric Measurements

It’s easy to confuse the units of LED light output. Steradians, luminous intensity, etc.

Here’s a link to an application note that explains these well, written by C. Richard Duda of UDT (now part of OSI Inc.).  Apertures, intentional and otherwise, are discussed, along with typical test configurations.

Link to pdf of application note titled Radiometripdf of Radiometric and

Please tell us if the link gets broken!

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CCD Cameras, eyes, and physics

This tech note was motivated by the question – how does the response of our eyes

differ from the response of a CCD camera sensor.

Using the data of a particular Hammamatsu CCD camera as an example,

we compared how silicon ‘sees’ to the photopic eye response

and compared both to a Planck black-body curve of a light at a particular

color temperature.

We don’t know what those lumps are in that CCD response curve – maybe some

strange reflection interference??

If you know – tell us!


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Vision response vs. Planck’s Black Body Curve

Color temperature is based upon the idea of a Planck black-body radiator.

Here’s a Tech Note that shows how our eyes respond to the Planck Black-Body radiator.

For a lamp filament at a certain ‘color temperature’ there’s a curve of how our eyes

respond to the lamp. Pete put this into a MathCAD model, and there’s a pdf here

that shows off a few nice graphs.


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Silicon Photodetector Units

Our eyes and silicon light detectors see things differently.

AND the units of photometrics differ from units used by normal MKS systems

here’s an Actinica tech note that tries to sort this out, click link for pdf file


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Actinica Book List

Ok, we have a book problem.

Both of us waay like good engineering books. A good explanation, or a great

graph that sums up why that camera ‘sees’ differently than my eyes, etc.

Since we’re always stumbling on more good books, this list will grow.

Drop by later see what’s new.

Here’s some of the books we like, as a pdf file here,


and here’s some more books we like:

  • the Feynman Lectures on Physics, a 3 volume set. Here’s a guy who can explain anything well. Like how sine, cosine and the magic number e all relate to the imaginary number i (square root of -1). He also has a great description of how a ’50 Ohm’ transmission line acts like ’50 Ohms’ no matter how long it is. For a really great puzzle – read his description of how charging a capacitor really involves magnetic fields outside the cap’s plates.

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