I’ve looked at a lot of resumes for electronics positions, so I thought I’d share some of my opinions on what should or shouldn’t be on there. Nothing formatting specific, so much as how to get across your interest and passion in electronics. I used examples that are resumes meant for engineering internships, but a lot of the info can be generalized to anyone. Hope you enjoy the video!

As promised, this post is a follow up post to explain the real-world behavior of an op amp. Here we will continue to anthropomorphize op amps in order to better understand their behavior and what they “want” to do. Also, we will look at some more complicated (but common) op amp configurations so that they are easily recognizable. Let’s begin.

First, let’s look at the symbol for the op amp:

Whoa-ho! What the heck are those? Last time, there was only 3 lines coming out of the triangle and now there’s five! They’re multiplying!

Really the “D” and “E” inputs are the power inputs to the op amp. This means we are no longer simply dealing with the “ideal” case and are now going to look at the behavior with some realistic expectations. I know that when I was first learning about op amps, I was perplexed by this idea. I thought, “Well what is the point of putting power into an op amp? What do I get for it?” The idea is that as long as the signal at the input (or more accurately the difference between “A” and “B” is smaller than the power at the “D” and “E” terminals, then the op amp can amplify the signal. This gets very useful once you start encountering signals that change over time, or AC signals (as opposed to DC signals). Let’s look at this idea below:

Special thanks to CoolMath.comfor the graphing program!

On the top left, we see a SINE wave, which is one of the simplest time varying signals there is. Amplifying this signal would not shift the signal, but instead would make the entire range of the signal larger. If we used a 4x amplification, then we would get the top right picture with the larger signal. Notice in the bottom picture the overlay of these two signals. They do not SHIFT up, but instead look like they are stretched. The easiest way to think of all this is at the extremes. If in the first picture the highest point was 1 and we had 4x amplification, then the output would be 4. However, the middle point is 0 and that multiplied by 4 is still zero. Hence the reason the overlay shows the extreme highs and lows being “stretched” the most. Also, it is important to note that these are analog signals, so EVERY point in between the extremes is being amplified.

The power coming into the op amp also restricts how much the op amp can amplify a signal. Not only that, but sometimes you don’t even get to go to the limits! Say you have +15 volts attached to “D” and -15 volts attached to “E” (most op amps have lower voltages these days but +/- 15 volts still happens sometimes). Now let’s say you have a 1V signal coming into a non-inverting amplifier (shown below). The gain on this amplifier is set to 15 by making the top resistor 14 times less than the resistor connected to the ground (non-inverting amplifiers have a gain of 1+R(top)/R(gnd)). So our 1 volt signal is placed at the non-inverting input (the plus) and the op amp says “15 volts, coming right up!”. Ah, but the op amp doesn’t quite have it. The op amp outputs 13.4 volts are so and then stops. “But WAIT!” you say, “why can’t this op amp output as much as I wanted? The ideal ones can output INFINITY. Can’t I just get one of those?” The short answer: no, you can’t. Op amps have internal protection circuitry that limits how high the input to the op amp can be in order to protect it from blowing up. Additionally, the op amp must consume some of that power in order to actually amplify the input signal; this will be expounded upon in further posts (the internals of an opamp).

The final point in this continuing discussion about op amps, is known as slew rate. Really it is a discussion of how fast an op amp can go and is limited by capacitance. Inside of any op amp, there is a capacitor, or rather a bunch of components that act together as one capacitor. This creates a required charge time for the internals of the circuit (for a more advanced look at this topic, check out the allaboutcircuits.com article on capacitors and calculus). The end result is that the op amp has some limit to how fast it can “decide” what the output should be. If we think back to the signals above that alter with time, we can imagine a situation where they would vary so quickly that an op amp would not be able to keep up. The end result is that a circuit such as the non-inverting amplifier shown above has some frequency above which it can no longer accurately amplify. This is known as the bandwidth of the circuit and has implications in many audio, measurement and communication industries.

This post discussed some of the real world aspects of op amps. The next post will discuss the internals of the op amp, such as the transistor setups. Imperfections in the silicon and the realities of material science will show us that more of the “ideal” op amp model is not possible in every day life; some potential topics are the input bias currents, the voltage offsets across the input terminals and how they can affect everyday circuits.

These are questions that I have asked at two periods in my life. The first time was in my introductory circuits class and around that time I really didn’t care (beer was a priority). The second time was when I dove headfirst back into analog electronics for my new job and had to re-teach myself a lot of things. I really appreciate the opportunity I had to re-learn everything because the second time around, I think I got it right.

OK, so let’s start simple. What is an op amp? Whoa, loaded question. For our purposes here (and just for now), let’s say it’s just a symbol.

To keep things basic, the A & B points are the input, the C point is the output.This symbol is an IDEAL op-amp, meaning it is impossible to construct one and really the expectations for the op amp are unrealistic. But this is the internet and we can do what we want on the internet, so we’ll just use the IDEAL op-amp for now.

OK, so now you know what the symbol is, but what does it mean? Well, the idea is you put two electrical signals into the inputs then the output changes accordingly. It takes the difference between the inputs and amplifies it, hence operational amplifier, or op amp. You may have noticed that input A has a minus symbol and input B has a plus symbol. So let’s say that the input to the minus, or INVERTING, input is 1 (for simplicity’s sake…this site is about analog so that value could be ANYWHERE from 0 to 1 or higher! Just thought I’d mention that). The input to the plus, or NON-INVERTING, input is 0. Now the op-amp is in an unbalanced state. The device is designed so that when this happens, the output goes as negative as it can. For the ideal case, we say this is negative infinity, but that’s not really possible. More on that later.

Conversely, in figure 3, if we put a one on the non-inverting and a zero on the inverting input, the op amp output would go high, infinity for our purposes here. The important thing to know is this:

The op-amp always “wants” both inputs (inverting and non-inverting) to be the same value. If they are not, the same value, the op amp output will go positive or negative, depending on which input is higher than the other. (Throughout this article I will continue to anthropomorphize op amps…best to get used to it now)

Alright, so how do we use this in circuits? If we wanted to find out if two signals were different, we could tie the signals to the inputs of the op amp, but then the output would go to infinity. This would not do us any good. The answer to this and many other questions in the universe is feedback. We are going to take the output and tie it back to the inverting input. Now the circuit looks like this:

First, we assume that the circuit has all points start at zero (point A being the most important). Next, we put a value of 1 (like the picture in figure 2) at the “B” non-inverting input. “WHOA,” says the op amp, “THIS AIN’T RIGHT!” So now the op amp puts its output to as high as it can, as fast as it can. This feeds back from the output (“C”) to the inverting input (“A”). So as the output moves closer to 1, the op amp is happier and backs off the output. When the input at A is the same as at B, the op amp is happy and stays there (but maintains the output of 1). The key here is that the op amp moves as fast as possible to get both inputs to be the same.

Why would someone use a buffer? Well that brings us to the next point about op amps, specifically ideal op amps:

Ideal op amps have infinite impedance (resistance) at their inputs. This means that no current will flow into the op amp.

A common use for a buffer is to supply current to another stage of a design, where the buffer acts as a gateway. So when the buffer “sees” a voltage at the input (“B”), it will output the voltage at “C”, but will also drive that voltage with current (as much as you want for an ideal op amp). This would be useful if you have a weak signal at the input, but want to let some other part of a circuit know about it. Perhaps you have a small sensor that is outputting a small voltage, but then you want to send the voltage over a long wire. The resistance in the wire will probably consume any current the sensor is outputting, so if you put that signal through a buffer, the buffer will supply the necessary current to get the signal to its destination (the other end of the wire).

What if the signal coming from the sensor is too small though? What if we want to make it bigger? This is when we turn the op amp into an amplifier, using resistors. One of the more common ways of doing so is using the inverting input, shown below:

Let’s go over what we know about this circuit. We know that the op amp wants both inputs to be the same. We also know that the non-inverting input is zero (because it’s connected to ground) and so the op amp will want the inverting input to be equal to zero (sometimes known as a “virtual ground”). In fact, since the op amp has feedback through the top resistor (squiggly line if you didn’t know), then the (ideal) op amp will output just about any current and voltage in order to get the inverting input to be equal to zero.

So now our situation. A dashing young engineer hooks up a voltage source to the point “IN” set to 1 volt. This creates a voltage at the inverting input. “WHOA” says the op amp, and then it begins to output a voltage to make the inverting input point equal to zero. Since the input is 1 volt the op amp decides it better do the opposite in order to make the inverting input match the non-inverting input of zero. As fast as it can (infinitely fast for an ideal op amp), it outputs -1 volt. The inputs are both zero and everything is right in the op amp’s world. What about current though? We remember that current cannot flow into the op amp at the inverting input, so any current will be flowing through both resistors. If we have 1 volt at the input and a 1 ohm resistor at the input, then we will have 1 amp of current flowing (according to Ohm’s law V=IR). So when the op amp outputs -1 volt across the top resistor, there is a -1 amp going through it (assuming it is a 1 ohm resistor). The currents cancel each other out at the inverting input and the voltage then equals zero. The place where the currents meet is sometimes called the “summing node”. This is a useful representation when dealing with currents as opposed to voltages.

For the last part of this thought exercise, let’s look at a situation where the resistors at the input and at the top of the circuit are not the same. Similarly to above, the same dashing young engineer puts 1 volt at the “In” node. The resistor is still 1 ohm, so there is 1 A of current flowing through to the summing node. The op amp once again sees this 1 volt and once again says “WHOA, I’m unhappy about this” and starts outputting the highest voltage it can. However, in this situation, the top resistor is now 4 ohms. In order to create the -1 amp that is required to cancel the 1 amp going through the input resistor, the op amp must output -4 volts (remember V=IR). We see that for an inverting op amp configuration, the ratio of the resistance of the top resistor to the bottom resistor determines the gain, or a multiplication factor from the input to the output. Also notice that the output is negative for a positive input, confirming that this is an inverting amplifier.

That’s the basics of it. Check back here for more about op amps, because there is a lot more to be said. Future posts might include other op amp configurations, design considerations and even the dreaded “REAL WORLD”, where the ideal op amp no longer exist.