I am currently working on a project where I need to simulate a pH probe's output voltage. For those that don't know, a pH probe uses pH-sensitive materials and fluids to output a voltage. The output voltage varies based on the hydrogen concentration of the solution the probe is measuring. The probe is hooked up to a pH meter, which is in essence just a multimeter, and the small voltage value is then converted into a pH value. A basic breakdown of this conversion is as follows:

            pH Value |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6  |  7  |  8  |  9  |  10  |  11  | 
Probe output (in mV) | 237 | 177 | 118 |  59 |  0  | -59 | -118| -177 | -237 |

To sum up very briefly, values below 7 pH cause the probe to output a positive voltage. Values above 7 pH cause the probe to output a negative voltage. Values of 7 pH exactly cause the probe to output no voltage.

Basically, I need my Raspberry Pi to be able to output voltages in this range. The goal is that the RPi can then be hooked up to any standard pH meter via BNC. The Pi would then output a voltage similar to the ones described above, and the pH meter would believe a real pH probe was attached, and display the pH that corresponds with the voltage the Pi is generating.

I am rather new to "making" and electronics in general. I have done some research and it appears that I will need a DAC to convert the Pi's digital output to an analog voltage. What complicates things is that I would need to output a negative voltage for values above 7 pH. Since the scale appears to be linear, I may be able to simply output the proper mV, then flip the voltage if the values are over 7 pH. I don't know how easy or feasible this is, however.

As I mentioned, I really am sort of lost at where to start. If anyone could give me some advice as to where to begin reading, or some chips/tutorials that may be useful to learn how to accomplish my goal, I would be grateful. Thank you!

  • Which programming language are you using?
    – stevieb
    Aug 11 '17 at 20:47
  • @stevieb I'd prefer Python, but I'm open to whatever language will help me get this working. Thanks
    – user31713
    Aug 11 '17 at 20:53
  • 1
    Ok, so I did some testing with an ADS1115 and figured out the voltage to pH reading just fine (using PWM), but it is beyond my expertise to output the negative voltages out of the Pi in any way. None of my DACs or digipots are capable of this, but I have a couple of types of op-amps that I'm going to throw into the mix to see if I can get the desired effect. Normally I don't spend so much time on something like this, but I am genuinely curious :)
    – stevieb
    Aug 11 '17 at 22:40

Assuming that your pH meter does not have a common ground with your RPI, you can connect the "GND" input to the pH meter to a 3.3V/2 resistor divider from the PI 3.3V supply and use a PI PWM output with an RC low pass filter to generate a programmable voltage without any DAC. Tie the RC low passed PWM output to the non-GND pH input and as the PWM value is set above and below 50%, the voltage into the pH meter will vary above and below zero, relative to 3.3V/2. If you want finer voltage control, you can use pull up/down resistors on the capacitor of the RC filter so that the resistor from the PI PWM output can only drive the output to some fraction of the 0-3.3V range as the PWM varies from 0% to 100%. The ratio of the RC resistor to the pull up/down resistors determines the range reduction.

As for generating the PWM outputs, you can use the pigpio library to easily generate PWM signals on any PI output.

All of this assumes that the rate of change on the pH voltages is relatively small, since it will be limited by the RC low pass filter time constant. In general, after a large change, the voltage through an RC settles to the final value within about 10*RC seconds. The PWM period should also be much shorter than the RC time constant, say ~1000 times, in order to filter out the PWM frequency.

See http://www.ti.com/lit/an/spraa88a/spraa88a.pdf for a detailed PWM DAC application note from Texas Instruments.

LTSpice Schematic: LTSpice Schematic Output with 8KHz PWM swept from 20uS on to 110uS on, plotting PWM relative to VCC/2 enter image description here

  • Thank you, I will take a look at this approach. To answer your other question, no, the pH meter will be a stand-alone device. It will not share any wiring with the Pi, aside from a BNC connector going from the Pi to the meter that transmits the voltage discussed in the original post.
    – user31713
    Aug 12 '17 at 13:42
  • Additionally, the rate of change needn't be very fast. The Pi will need to output a new value every 1 to 5 minutes. Any new values generated by the Pi are likely to be very, very close to the previous value, +/- a few mV.
    – user31713
    Aug 12 '17 at 13:43
  • I'm looking at a low pass filter and this appears to be what I need. Could you please supply some more info on how I would wire this? I can find plenty of resources on using PWM with a low pass filter to generate specific voltage, but I am unable to find any info about doing this with the divider you mention and getting +/- outputs. Thanks again.
    – user31713
    Aug 12 '17 at 16:29
  • 1
    I added a schematic and simulation. The RC time constants give about a 5 second settling time and less than 1mv of feedthrough on the PWM ripple. The capacitor on the VCC_DIV2 divider also low passes the noise from the 3.3V supply in order to minimize noise. You can adjust the range by changing the value of R1.
    – crj11
    Aug 12 '17 at 18:02
  • Thank you very much for the advice and the schematic. I did some reading and I think I understand how everything works. I'll order some parts and get to building. Can't thank you enough!
    – user31713
    Aug 12 '17 at 19:27

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