I was introduced to the world of digital electronics when I was a graduate student in the chemistry department at Polytechnic University in Brooklyn. My thesis advisor had just purchased a xenon chloride excimer laser with a pulse repetition rate capability of one, two, or three times per second. There was another laser used in our experiment, an argon-ion laser whose continuous beam was alternately blocked and unblocked by a 60-Hz mechanical chopper. My job was to build a pulse generator, whose trigger was Argon-ion laser light from the 60-Hz chopper, that would select a pulse rate within the capability of the excimer laser and whose timing would bring light from both crossed laser beams to the sample at the same moment.

Fortunately, a professor down the hall was happy to give me a crash course in integrated circuit design and application. Within a few weeks, along with several visits to electronics shops and Radio Shack, my pulse generator was sending excimer laser light to the sample at just the right moment, twice every second. One good way to learn digital electronics is to build something you have an interest in or a need for. The rest will happen with a little help from your friends. For more on my graduate school experience, visit the 24HourAnswers.com blog article Reflections of a Ph.D.

There are a large number of online tutorials at The Multimedia Electronic Literature & Learning Internet Site, many of which include basic electronics. More tutorials can be found at Discover Circuits, and the site Electronics Tutorials has a thorough review of digital logic gates. For a more sophisticated look at the world of digital electronics, you should visit the IEEE Xplore Digital Library, where an enormous amount of advanced material can be found.

A good introductory course in digital electronics will cover many of the following topics:

  • Fundamental concepts
  • Number systems and codes
  • Semiconductor devices - switching mode operation
  • Digital logic families
  • Combinatorial logic design
  • Combinational logic design using MSI circuits
  • Sequential logic design
  • Timing circuits
  • A/D and D/A converters
  • Semiconductor memories
  • Programmable logic devices
  • Fundamentals of microprocessors
  • Computer-Aided Design of digital systems


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