The oscilloscope is a piece of electronic test equipment that is used to analyse the varying signals given off by voltages, with the aim of spotting potentially anomalies present within the waveform displayed on screen.

Phew, that was jargon filled wasn’t it?

If you want it put more simply, the oscilloscope basically allows you to see when signal voltages are behaving incorrectly. To do this, the oscilloscope displays a visual representation of a voltage on the oscilloscope’s screen, which is known as the signal’s ‘wave shape’.

Chances are you’ve probably seen this type of wave used most commonly in hospitals on heart monitors. The heart monitor is a variation on an oscilloscope, and converts the signals output by the heart into a visual wave shape that doctors can use to assess the condition of a person’s heart.

Oscilloscopes are also used extremely commonly in the electronic field. The oscilloscope allows users to analyse exactly why a piece of electronic equipment might be malfunctioning by correctly interpreting the appearance of the waveform generated by the electrical item.  These changes are known as ‘oscillation’, which are the changes of a measure around a central point over a given period of time.   When referring to electrical equipment, the oscillation of a voltage signal can clearly showcase problems if the displayed wave shape starts to behave erratically on the oscilloscopes’ screen.

How Does the Oscilloscope Work?

When a signal is fed into the oscilloscope, the device converts this signal into the visual representation known as a wave shape.

It performs this task by converting the signal into what’s known as a v/t graph. The V stands for voltage, and is displayed on the y-axis of the oscilloscope screen. This is then measured against time, which is measured on the X-axis of the screen.   This basically means that the signal you’ll see on the screen is a representation of how the voltage signal being fed into the oscilloscope changes over time, or ‘oscillates’ if you want to get all fancy.

The signal is represented on a screen that’s basically 8 X 10 1cm squares, allowing users to pinpoint the exact point a wave shape may oscillate to.

The oscilloscope is a much more effective tool for analysing the problems within electrical equipment than other items such as digital multimeters because it allows the user to pinpoint exactly what’s going wrong in the circuit. A digital multimeter would simply give an incorrect reading, and not tell you exactly where the problem lies. By correctly interpreting the direction of the circuit’s wave shape, you can pinpoint the problem within the circuit and take action.