What Are Oscilloscopes and How Do They Work?

Posted on June 25, 2021 Jerold Perkins Aerospace

Oscilloscopes are electronic test equipment that are commonly used in a number of industries, allowing for varying signal voltages to be graphically displayed as a waveform. Found in applications ranging from medical devices to instrument control software, oscilloscopes are an important component for countless devices and industries. To better understand what an oscilloscope is and how it may benefit varying systems, we will discuss their basic construction and operating principles.


The functionality of an oscilloscope is similar to that of a traditional cathode-ray tube television, thus they are sometimes referred to as a cathode-ray oscilloscope (CRO) parts. With a vertical system, signals can enter the oscilloscope through the probe in order to be optimized in regard to amplitude. The signal voltage is then sampled by the acquisition system, that of which records various data points for a display. The acquisition system may vary depending upon the type of oscilloscope, some being capable of assigning precise time coordinates for each voltage sample. With the trigger system, user-specified conditions can allow for waveform records to be produced when a trigger criteria is met with the incoming signal stream. When the oscilloscope successfully measures a signal, the display will feature a line drawn across the screen, that of which is an electron beam moving up and down a chart.

In order to create the display, two motors are connected to electrical circuits so that sample signals may be taken. The x-circuit is linked to an electronic quartz clock, meaning that every tick will cause the line to move horizontally on the graph. With the y-circuit, on the other hand, a connection is made to an electronic instrument that will measure a specific application dependent value so that vertical changes may be graphed. As an example, measuring an individual’s heart rate will result in vertical measurements that trace beats, while the horizontal section of the graph tracks time.

While the x-circuit is most often a time base for measuring signal variations over time, the y-circuit is attached to whatever signal needs to be measured. Additionally, the x-circuit may also be attached to a second signal, opening up the possibility of more complex measurements for varying needs. The graph of measurements is known as a graticule, and such graticules are separated into squares called divisions. It is important that the calibration of the x and y axes are specifically set to allow for the signal trace to properly be monitored.

With the type of charting and measurements an oscilloscope provides, such devices can be used for a number of applications. For simple uses, oscilloscopes can be an advantageous tool to locate faults within televisions, radio equipment, and other electronics. Beyond measuring electrical currents, transducers such as the piezoelectric transducer or thermocouple transducer may be attached to measure anything from temperature changes to vibration. With the many uses of oscilloscopes, such technology allows for unseen signals to be observed and studied.

While many early oscilloscopes were designed with cathode-ray tubes, the advent of LCD technology has radically changed such components. Now, LCD oscilloscope displays and components allow for digital electronics to create a trace, rather than relying on moving electron beams. These advancements have permitted more compact and cheaper construction of such devices while also providing the benefit of fully digital systems. For basic uses such as home projects, plugin USB oscilloscopes serve as a modern, inexpensive device that utilize a computer or mobile phone screen as the display. Alongside such types, a number of oscilloscopes exist to benefit different applications.

Whether you are in need of a mixed signal oscilloscope, digital oscilloscope, or other various oscilloscope components, there is no better alternative to Aerospace Exchange. Aerospace Exchange is a leading supplier of oscilloscope technology, and we can help you secure top quality parts at competitive pricing. With our market expertise and purchasing power, we leverage time and cost savings for the benefit of our domestic and international customers. We are also fully dedicated to the quality of our parts, operating with AS9120B, ISO 9001:2015, and FAA AC 00-56B certification and accreditation due to our practices and quality control standards. Give us a call or email today to see how we can fulfill all your operational needs quickly and easily.

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