left. The Radio Shack
Electronics Learning Lab box makes no mention that it's also a digital
logic course. Apart from that, it accurately portrays the lab.
console is a dazzling bit of work. It comes packed in
this sturdy cardboard box, which can also be used as a tray for parts
while working. The console is a huge incentive to learning electronics,
and functions as a control panel.
the top left is a slide switch for power, provided by 6 AA
batteries. Along the top are two rows of spring terminals, used to
connect to an 8 segment LED, 10 individual LEDs, and an analog meter
(0-1 DC milliamps) which can be configured to read various quantities.
Down the left side are three very smoothly operating potentiometers,
which are used as volume controls and to smoothly increase voltage.
Along the bottom (front) is a DPDT (double pole, double throw) switch,
four blue momentary contact pushbuttons, Next are connections for
a relay (not shown) and a transformer (shown through a window). Down
the right side, under the meter, are a photoresistor (photocell),
buzzer, and speaker.
saved the best for last. That white rectangle in the middle is a
breadboard, which is the way pros layout and test a circuit. This means
you can insert the resistors, transistors, and other included parts
into the holes, along with jumper wires to connect them. The board is
already set up with contacts providing six different votlages for
kind of parts do you get? How about dozens of resistors, about 30
capacitors, 5 diodes, red and green LEDs (in addition to those already
mounted in the console), a ceramic earphone, 6 transistors, and
16 integrated circuits, all packed in anti- static foam in three
separate plastic boxes. Not to mention two 96 page lab workbooks.
If this doesn't make you want to learn electronics, nothing will.
Mims III, Super genius, to paraphrase Wile
electronics? It costs at
least $500 at a tech school, so how well does the Shack's learning lab
stack up? Pretty well, and for a number of reasons. This kit was
from the ground up by Radio Shack's wunderkind designer, Forrest Mims
who also writes their project books and has developed a few other kits.
The plus of this kit is that Forrest takes a hands-on approach using
same materials you'd use if you were a pro designer or a hobbyist with
means a breadboard you can insert parts into, and a power supply
with six different voltage outputs, precut and stripped wire jumpers to
connect the parts with, and a control console with switches, variable
controls, lights (LEDs), a 7-segment LED readout, an electonic meter, a
buzzer, speaker, and photocell to build all sorts of electronic
sort of parts would you plug into the breadboard? How about 19
integrated circuits, 6 transistors, four diodes, about 30 capacitors,
red and green LEDs, about fifty resistors, and a few more miscellaneous
parts? Price just one integrated circuit at Radio Shack and you'll see
what a good deal this kit is. Add a 96 page project book, and you've
got a very decent electronics lab.
none of that hints at what makes Forrest's design so unique.
Besides the Basic Electronics workbook, there's a second 96 page
workbook called Digital Logic Projects. This lab is also a complete
hands-on course in digital electronics: binary code, logic gates, the
theory and basic circuits of
a computer. That's when this kit gets really fun. Then there's
unique approach. The books are hand-drawn and hand-written, with a
checklist to assemble each of the 200 projects, but also pictorial
for each circuit, and how to translate that to a skematic, the standard
to draw electronic circuits. From the first circuit on, you can start
and experimenting, Dexter style. I wonder what would happen if I did
this approach, warning you in advance what might really blow something
but then letting you have at it.
only con is the same as the pro: that this is the real thing, so
you do need to discharge the static before handling the CMOS chips (by
touching a large metal object), and keep the chips in their conductive
foam container (included). Forrest hits on all these standard
and it pays to read his books closely. The box says this lab is for
ten and up, but a budding Dexter a bit younger could probably handle it
with some assistance. A magnifying glass is helpful to read the tiny
markings, and a tweezer assists putting chips in the breadboard.
is another electronics kit called the Sensor Lab, also by Forrest
and costing a little less, and easily confused with the Electronics
Learning Lab. One kit that it won't be confused with is a really
different brainchild of the inventive designer called Sky and Sun
Monitoring Station. It's very difficult to figure out what this even is
without opening it, but once you do, you find out it's the real deal.
Mind boggling as it sounds, for $30 jr. scientists can get their hands
on real stuff and really do science. This
is a science fair in a box and includes a guide for home schooling and
along with internet satellite monitoring links. Once again you get an
designed control console, this time to measure air mass, water vapor,
different wavelengths of sun radiation (safely), displayed on an LCD
A few extras like a compass and level, viewing filters, and a sun angle
scale are also included. Team this up with one of the electronic
from Radio Shack and you've got a really good weatherstation and
fun for amateur meteorologists. Look for our forthcoming review.
|Above: left: Close up of
breadboard. Unlike some electronics kits, the breadboard construction
allows the lab to use regular, off the shelf parts, like the resistor
and LED shown above. 75 jumper wires like the white one above,
color-coded by length, are also included.
right: As with his Engineers'
Notebooks series for Radio Shack, Forrest
draws every page of the lab books by hand. He also built and tested
every circuit. On page 14 in the Basic Electronics workbook, he
contrasts two ways of drawing a circuit: as a pictorial view, or as a
circuit diagram, shown right, below.
Below: The lab includes two 96
page workbooks, jammed with
projects, some of which can be left built, and adapted into the next
one. If you build every project, by the end of the books, you'll know
electonics. The Radio Shack clerk told me that an instructor had been
in just before me and bought five Learning Labs for a tech school. Our
verdict of the Learning Lab: two thumbs waaaaay up.
left: The binary system
provides the basis for digital logic, as Forrest shows in Workbook II,
Digital Logic Projects.
right: On page 54, you build a binary adder, the
basis for the digital
more electronics sets under "Robot Kits and Building Sets" in the Robot Store).