Tech Briefs

Multiplexing Transducers Based on Tunnel-Diode Oscillators

Compact, low-power transducers could operate over wide temperature ranges.

Multiplexing and differential transducers based on tunnel-diode oscillators (TDOs) would be developed, according to a proposal, for operation at very low and/or widely varying temperatures in applications that involve requirements to minimize the power and mass of transducer electronic circuitry. It has been known since 1975 that TDOs are useful for making high-resolution (of the order of 10–9) measurements at low temperatures. Since that time, TDO transducers have been found to offer the following additional advantages, which the present proposal is intended to exploit:

  • TDO transducers can operate at temperatures ranging from 1 K to about 400 K. Most electronic components other than tunnel diodes do not operate over such a wide temperature range.
  • TDO transducers can be made to operate at very low power —typically, <1 mW.
  • Inasmuch as the response of a TDO transducer is a small change in an arbitrarily set oscillation frequency, the outputs of many TDOs operating at sufficiently different set frequencies can be multiplexed through a single wire.
  • Inasmuch as frequencies can be easily subtracted by means of mixing circuitry, one can easily use two TDOs to make differential measurements. Differential measurements are generally more precise and less susceptible to environmental variations than are absolute measurements.
  • TDO transducers are tolerant to ionizing radiation.
  • Ultimately, the response of a TDO transducer is measured by use of a frequency counter. Because frequency counting can be easily implemented by use of clock signals available from most microprocessors, it is not necessary to incorporate additional readout circuitry that would, if included, add to the mass and power consumption of the transducer circuitry .

ImageIn one example of many potential variations on the basic theme of the proposal, the figure schematically depicts a conceptual differential-pressure transducer containing a symmetrical pair of TDOs. The differential pressure would be exerted on an electrically conductive and grounded diaphragm, which, at zero differential pressure, would nominally be sprung to a middle position between two capacitor plates that would be parts of the two TDOs. The frequencies of the two TDOs would vary in opposite directions as variations in differencan be multiplexed through a single wire.

  • Inasmuch as frequencies can be easily subtracted by means of mixing circuitry, one can easily use two TDOs to make differential measurements. Differential measurements are generally more precise and less susceptible to environmental variations than are absolute measurements.
  • TDO transducers are tolerant to ionizing radiation.
  • Ultimately, the response of a TDO transducer is measured by use of a frequency counter. Because frequency counting can be easily implemented by use of clock signals available from most microprocessors, it is not necessary to incorporate additional readout circuitry that would, if included, add to the mass and power consumption of the transducer circuitry .

In one example of many potential variations on the basic theme of the proposal, the figure schematically depicts a conceptual differential-pressure transducer containing a symmetrical pair of TDOs. The differential pressure would be exerted on an electrically conductive and grounded diaphragm, which, at zero differential pressure, would nominally be sprung to a middle position between two capacitor plates that would be parts of the two TDOs. The frequencies of the two TDOs would vary in opposite directions as variations in differential pressure bent the diaphragm away from one capacitor plate and toward the other. The outputs of the TDOs would be mixed and low-pass filtered to obtain a signal at the difference between the frequencies of the two TDOs. The difference frequency would be measured by a frequency counter and converted to differential pressure by a computer.

This work was done by Talso Chui, Konstantin Penanen, and Joseph Young of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free online at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Semiconductors & ICs category. NPO-43079

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).

Multiplexing Transducers Based on Tunnel-Diode Oscillators (reference NPO-43079) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

Please Login at the top of the page to download.