Roger Frost records the latest innovations in data-loggers that are broadening pupils' scientific horizons
There was a time when data-logger manufacturers made much the same thing and we learned easily how to connect them to a PC. But this year innovation is rife - you will find kit that connects in all sorts of ways and even without wires. It is time to forget what you know, as BETT 2005 showcases countless new ways to help with practical science.
We start with Xplorer GLX from Pasco (price pound;299, with a 10 per cent introductory discount), the most functional data-logger you'll find. It's really fast for physics, for example, it can handle sound waves and velocity changes and it will do that on location - at a theme park or sports track. This is unusual power to be carrying round in the shape of a large graphic calculator. And although it's a few times thicker than any you've seen, it does accommodate Pasco sensors old and new.
There's a microphone for sound input and voice notes, but still this is just a clue to its abilities. It not only displays graphs on a crisp screen, it can calculate their rate of change, and more, as you would on a PC. You access its features using a keypad but plug in a regular USB mouse and hey, you're flying without a laptop. Plug in a standard keyboard - a fold-up type is available - and students can type up reports or use worksheets you've stored inside it.
By contrast the Vernier Go! Temp (pound;41, Instruments Direct) is the simplest unit imaginable as it measures temperature alone. Plugged into a USB socket it is ready to go and good value. Alternatively, you could combine a Vernier sensor with the Go! Link (pound;63) to make it a truly plug-and-play device. All this works with Logger Lite, the software supplied. The result is incredibly easy, remarkably capable and neither scares or patronises.
UK equipment makers also offer USB connectors to connect existing sensors to the PC. USB brings fast recording, automatic sensor identification and provides power from the PC to the logger. This translates into reliability, although you may need extra drivers. Data Harvest has EasySense Link (pound;99), a very simple USB box to measure using three of their sensors at once. This USB-powered unit is robust, inexpensive and so incredibly fast (40,000 readings per second) that it records a magnet falling through a coil. If you rarely work away from a PC, you can put this high on your list.
Meanwhile, the affordable eXperiment (pound;69 from Griffin) is for the LogIT system. Though it handles a single sensor, you can use a few at once.
eXperiment comes with a pack of video instructions and this wonderfully simple unit has been shortlisted for a BETT award. A new LogIT data- logger is also available (see below).
Those who care not for wires will find several kits using Bluetooth, the technology that lets mobile phones exchange data or use headsets.
Sciencescope has Logbook WL (pound;250) that offers a choice of cable or Bluetooth wireless to connect to the PC, and there's also a Logbook UL (Pounds 200) which connects via just USB. Sciencescope also has new software called Datadisc Pt (pound;235) and an adaptor to make use of an Ohaus balance (Pounds 150). Economatics has Trilink (price tbc) which, as well as working over wires to a PC or a handheld Palm, can use a wireless link. Interestingly, the Trilink Bluetooth allows several PCs to record results from an experiment within range. Data Harvest also has a Bluetooth-based unit.
For out-of-doors work, Suna has Envirolab PX18 (price tba), an inexpensive, weatherproof unit that you could leave in a pond. It will happily store the data until you upload it to the PC, although it can send its data over a network Ethernet cable. It's early days, but there's even a way to power the logger using just one cable. If you're an out-of-doors centre looking for a 247 system, this is worth a look. Those seeking kit to work with PCs, Palm PDAs and the Dana, the keyboard based Palm should head to Matrix Multimedia. Here you'll find Flowlog (pound;250), which distinguishes itself by its low cost and great range of sensors. The result is portable and uses a surprisingly reliable wireless infrared connection.
Primary schools will find kits at all the equipment suppliers. Newest this year is Easy Sense Q (pound;169 from Data Harvest) which comes ready to run with two temperature sensors and more sensors built in. With a four-line screen, easy-to-use software and batteries recharged via the PC, it should rank high in your choices - it has been shortlisted for a BETT award. Primary schools keen on control and robotics will, as ever, find attractive offerings in the LEGO system while BETT newcomers Logiblocs have a very cool-looking robot that is just too good to be a toy.
Finally, enjoy browsing what is new and note that new gear may take months before it delivers. Meantime, there's plenty to fulfil classroom needs here and now.
Data-loggers at BETT
Tel: 01269 843728
EasySense - Data Harvest
Tel: 01525 373666
Flowlog - Matrix Multimedia
Tel: 0870 700 1831
Logbook - ScienceScope Stand M15
Tel: 0870 2256175
LogIT; eXperiment -
Tel: 01509 233344
Philip Harris Education
Tel: 0845 120 4520
Tel: 01480 396 395 www.picotech.com
Robotics - Lego
Tel: 01732 77 33 99
Robotics - Logiblocs
Tel: 01727 763700 www.logiblocs.co.uk
Tel: 020 8390 8811
Trilink - Economatics
Tel: 0114 281 3344
Tel: 020 8673 2233
Vernier Go! - Instruments Direct Services (IDS)
Tel: 01283 214100
Weather Monitor - The Advisory Unit
Tel: 01707 266714
Xplorer GLX - PASCO Scientific
Training - IT in Science and Roger Frost
Roger Frost is the author of "Data-logging in Practice", pound;16.50 from ASE. He is showing his books and software at BETT
Tel: 01763 209 109