Streamlining Science

Today, collecting, evaluating, and analyzing data-the basic concepts of scientific study-usually involve electronic probeware. Probeware combines sensors that collect data with software that analyzes it once it has been sent to a computer or calculator. Science inquiry has benefited greatly from the use of electronic probeware, providing students with expanded opportunities to collect more precise data and in larger amounts. Students have much more information available to them to make inferences and draw conclusions.

New advances in probeware from Vernier, PASCO/ImagiWorks, and Fourier Systems continue to streamline the data-collection process. Vernier's Easylink makes it simple to connect probes to Texas Instruments TI-84 calculators while reducing the size and complexity of the interface box. PASCO/ImagiWorks reduces the number of wires by using Bluetooth technology to connect probes wirelessly to a Palm handheld. Fourier also incorporates wireless technology, allowing for remote monitoring and connections to a variety of devices including PCs and Macs, Palm, and Pocket PCs. All of the offerings reduce the bulk of cables and the size of interface boxes that were previously required.

All three also provide many options for students to collect data in laboratory and field situations. Best of all, learning how to use these devices was a breeze.

ImagiProbe Wireless System/PASCO PASPORT AirLink


ImagiProbe Wireless System continues to lead the way in integrating data collection using Palm handheld computers. The ImagiProbe Wireless System creates a portable laboratory consisting of the ImagiProbe software and the PASCO PASPORT AirLink wireless sensor interface. ImagiProbe software works with PCs or Macs and connects via the Palm hotsync conduits. It supports an experimental approach by setting up trials in which students can collect data and graph as they go.

The software also lets students create notes and save them along with the collected data. The graph appears in strip chart form; the researcher can zoom, rescale, or trace the data later. Once the data is collected, students can transfer it to a PC or Mac when the handheld is hotsynced. Data on the PC can be viewed in a Web page or as a spreadsheet-ready text file.

This new wireless sampling system, with PASCO AirLink Sensor Interface and Bluetooth technology, frees up students for more hands-on learning. Compatible with all Bluetooth-enabled Palm handhelds, the system provides a range of approximately 30 feet from an AirLink to a Palm handheld computer. Each AirLink has a unique name, and the Palm can only attach to a single AirLink at a time.

The AirLink incorporates a rechargeable battery, but it can also be used with an external supply. In addition, it connects to and supports PASCO's line of 25 digital sensors with sampling rates extending from 1 per hour to 1,000 per second. AirLink automatically identifies sensors and loads default calibrations, including sampling rates. With an adaptor, many analog sensors can be used, too.

Finally, ImagiProbe provides installable content. Investigations include notes, trials, and predefined setups for specific sensors. Content Labs are available in general science, water quality, physical science, and chemistry class. Even though ImagiProbe software will run on a Palm with OS 3.5 or higher, connecting to AirLink will require a Bluetooth-enabled Palm running OS 5.0 or higher.

The PASCO PASPORT AirLink wireless sensor interface works with ImagiProbe software.


(Vernier Software)

EasyLink continues Vernier's trend of simplifying calculator-based data collection by reducing the size of the interface box that connects sensors to the TI-84 Plus or TI-84 Plus Silver edition via the built-in USB connector on the calculator. The EasyLink connects to one of Vernier's 41 compatible sensors, including those that measure light, pressure, force, sound, current, hand dynamometer, salinity, and conductivity.

This inexpensive ($58) interface box's small size and USB connection reduces the bulk of the testing equipment and, when attached to the calculator, communicates with Vernier's free software, EasyData. EasyData, running on the TI-84 calculator, automatically identifies the sensor and calibration, meaning that students are collecting data in seconds. The program is easily navigated by using the five graphing keys and comes standard on TI-84 models manufactured after January 2005. (It is also a free download at EasyData software updates, as well as calculator system updates, are freely available, as is the latest version of EasyData 2.0.

EasyData includes new features for data analysis such as statistics, curve fits, and working with integrals.

The software has the ability to open and save experiment files, stop data collection runs, or set up new ones, and features additional calibration options, too. An EasyData guidebook can be downloaded from the Vernier Software Web site for additional information on using the software.

EasyLink with EasyData software extends the options available for students and schools looking for quality, inexpensive probeware systems that are compatible with common probes, probeware, and calculators.

Vernier Software's Easylink connects a host of sensors to Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus calculators.


(Fourier Systems)

Fourier Systems' TriLink wireless data logger has a lot to offer student scientific investigations. The TriLink is a highly flexible, small data logger that can connect to regular computers via a USB cable or wirelessly to a Bluetooth-enabled PC, Mac, Palm, or Pocket PC handheld. Like the AirLink, the TriLink has a rechargeable battery or can be used with an AC/DC adapter.

The TriLink is very adaptable, too. The logger can be used in standalone mode, collecting data to be uploaded later. This allows the logger to be set up for sampling sequences that may start and stop outside of the school day, including unsupervised extended time sampling. The logger can also be set up to respond to thresholds where sampling occurs above, below, or within a certain range.

The TriLink has four input ports for attaching sensors. With optional cable splitters, the total number of sensors can be increased to eight. Fourier Systems sells more than 50 sensors for the TriLink, with some available for temperature, acceleration, and soil moisture data collection. Sensors can be manually configured, but it was easier to let the TriLink automatically identify the type of sensor when connected. Sensors included in my review package included a temperature probe, a light sensor, a microphone, and a Web camera.

The TriLink data logger comes with the powerful MultiLab analysis software, which provides a graph window, a data table, a navigation window, and a video window to view your experiment. This software shows live data feeds in real time with sampling rates of up to 100 per second; automatic downloads of data from the logger can be carried out at even faster rates. MultiLab can display the data in graphs, meters, and tables, and it includes a wide variety of tools to help apply meaning to data and reach conclusions. Linear fit, integrals, and statistics are just a few of the analysis options. Versions of MultiLab can be installed on each of the devices that connect to TriLink. Palm, Pocket PC, PC, and Mac versions are available on the MultiLab CD; the software had a consistent look and feel regardless of the device. One drawback: Although the software worked well on the Palm, I had difficulty getting the data to graph once I connected with my Pocket PC device.

An exciting component of this software is the researcher's ability to include video in the data-collection trial. Experiments can be captured via the included Webcam, a video camera connected to the computer through a capture card (not included) or by playing video into a video capture card from a VCR. Audio comments can also be included with the video. Data points can be obtained from the video using the video analysis tools in MultiLab. Students can produce complete multimedia lab reports with real-time synchronized annotated graphs and video.

Fourier also provides a workbook tool for its data logger and software. The workbook provides students with a step-by-step preview of the lab activity to be conducted and automatically configures the MultiLab program. Students can open workbooks or create new ones for experiments that they design.

Both educators and students will like working with the TriLink data logger because of the large number of sensors available and the many ways that it can be set up and configured. The TriLink can be used alone, wirelessly with both major types of handheld computer systems, or connected to Macs or PCs. That flexibility makes it worth a serious look for use in the science classroom.

The TriLink wireless data logger connects to the computer through a USB port or wirelessly using Bluetooth.

Mike Brown is an educator and the director of the Coastal Studies and Technology Center at Seaside High School in Seaside, Oregon.

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