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Data-logging now with added ease of use

Networking has moved on in 20 years and the concepts of collaborative working and information sharing have come to the fore. Roger Frost looks at the technologies improving the network

Data-logging, the technology for teaching science, becomes unbelievably easy this month. Breaking with traditions that go back years, the new sensors plug directly into the computer and are ready and working within seconds.

The range of sensors from Pasco use the USB socket found on many computers. They bring "plug and play" measuring to science lessons. Plug in a temperature sensor, see the software launch and you've a system that's as slick as it needs to get. That this PassPort sensor, as it's called, eschews power supplies, batteries and fussy interface boxes will suit many settings, though the target is pupils at ages 9 to14.

There's more to this than taking temperatures. Using other plug-and-play sensors you can measure distance, heart rate, force and pH. Swap them around and the software comes up roses, offering a correctly scaled graph ready for a investigation. The software also links to a huge work scheme of electronic sheets that not only illustrate a task, but guide pupils through it.

Recently, US company Pasco has come to the fore with ground-breaking, high-performance equipment. Much of this has no equal, even here in the UK, the centre of the data-logging universe. Its Science Workshop systems offer the very fast data-capture that, like an oscilloscope, puts sound waves and lamp flicker on the PC screen.

Sensors that directly measure force and acceleration make you wonder whether we need to rethink how we teach. A colorimeter that automatically zeroes itself and leaves you to start measuring offers the chemists and biologists similar food for thought. It's much like the way the calculator impinged on maths teaching.

Only last year Pasco's data-logging software called Data Studio (downloadable free demo at showed how it was possible to exploit the capabilities of modern computers. Its "go ahead and try it" approach lets you rescale graphs, change settings and tweak the display as you take readngs. Its built-in worksheet maker quickly brings the whole business of managing a lesson to a head. Data Studio isn't a "bundled-in" piece of software, it's a serious glance at how we might do science this century.

The Passport range is rightly aimed at the younger end of school where reliability is paramount. It's a brilliant, very reliable distance sensor, heart monitor and pH meter to use from time to time. The Passport range will have its first showing at BETT (see pages 76-77) and ASE meeting in Guildford.

Data-logging has been synonymous with technology not working. Whereas in recent years the flat battery has been king, a USB connection offers power in the plug and pushes all that into history. Plug and play had to come to data-logging one day, but it really didn't have to be this good.

Another arrival to the UK is the Jeulin VTT Data-logger (Economatics). The unit's neat shape offers the look of something designed for measuring both in the field and on the bench. A built-in display that shows results on a graph while all sort of buttons and menus offer access to some particularly flexible recording capabilities. These range from short, very fast recordings for physics to unusually leisurely experiments lasting up to a year.

Log-IT has a new low-pressure sensor that will be a boon for transpiration experiments. It's the missing link for biologists who often need to measure small changes.

Finally, Data Harvest has developed a range of IQ sensors where intelligence is put into the sensor itself via a chip. This ought to help lots with future compatibility. Whenever new sensors are connected they will simply "tell" the rest of the system about themselves. Jeulin data - LogIT range; ControlTel: 01732 773399LogIT range with new Philip Harris - Card Logotron - Junior Control Insight; MC Lego - Robolab control and Valiant - SenSci Control Box and Roamer

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