How Oscillators Work

How do oscillators work? A power source starts and periodically repeats charge to a capacitor that builds and transmits electrostatic energy to an inductor, resulting in movement of energy.

Oscillators are integral parts of many kinds of electronic equipment ranging from quartz watches to radio receivers and the ubiquitous computer. Oscillation is a back and forth movement at a set frequency. Such movement is produced by the transformation of energy from one form to another. Friction takes away some energy so each stroke of oscillation needs a dose of replacement stimulus if the process is to continue.

A capacitor is connected to a battery in an electronic oscillator. The capacitor builds up an electrostatic charge and feeds it to an inductor. The inductor accumulates magnetic energy from the capacitor feed and recycles energy in the capacitor. The capacitor and inductor transfer energy between each other in this cyclical fashion. This continues until resistance in the circuit wires drain the energy away. Resistance is the physical restraint that the material of the wires impose on the waves. The oscillation frequency depends on the dimensions of the capacitor and the inductor. Frequency is a term that refers to the pattern and size of the waves. Batteries are the most common sources of power to replace the energy lost due to resistance. Theoretically, oscillation once started can go on indefinitely by mutual induction. Resistance is the factor that leads to stoppage unless a power source replaces the energy lost to resistance. This is the essential principle on which all oscillators are designed and made.

The capacitor may be adjustable so that it resonates when in contact with waves of a particular pattern. Resonance occurs when two sets of waves meet each other and beat in unison. The tuner is a radio receiver works in this fashion. Oscillation in a watch is generated in a silicon dioxide bar or disc, commonly known as quartz. Such watches use small batteries for power. Atomic clocks work on the oscillation between atoms and are the most accurate time keepers known. Metal detection for security or for searches for hidden treasure under the ground, also depends on oscillation. There are different kinds of metal detectors but they all work on the principle of electro-magnetic oscillation between metallic components in the detector and metal that is hidden on the body of a person or buried under the ground. All metals give off waves and the pattern of such waves distinguishes the metal. Human perception does not pick up all waves, but they are still there. Receiver coils in metal detectors pick up waves from hidden metal. The resultant electric current oscillates at the same frequency as the field of the hidden metal, leading to its detection. This is another example of the application of oscillation to resonate with the electro-magnetic field of a metal object that is hidden from view. Electronic oscillators generate signals in computers and are used in modern musical instruments, transmitters and other electronic equipment. Oscillation lies at the heart of how a computer is able to carry out its functions.

Oscillators can be used to measure time and to intercept and interact with waves generated by electric and magnetic fields. These properties give oscillators a number of uses in our everyday lives. The technology is flexible because a wide range of frequencies can be covered by the shape, size and layout of oscillator components. A distinct advantage is that oscillation is non-invasive and poses no threat to our safety and well-being. It is discreet and goes about its work literally around the clock, with long-life, high reliability and almost no maintenance. Oscillators often require amplifiers as their energy and pattern may otherwise lie outside the range of human perception.

© High Speed Ventures 2011