Question: What would be a good basic activity to test out a data logging device in water?

stevie is asking a question about riffle
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by stevie | June 16, 2017 15:42 | #14550

I'm looking to set up a few activities that people could try in testing out data loggers in the water. Some of the ones I’ve been thinking about are:

  • running them in a bucket of water,
  • two loggers in the same place, and
  • for something more field based, an upstream, downstream test.

Does anyone know of an activity posted or one that could be pulled together?


Possibly some of the Coqui activities (which were designed for real-time monitoring, not data logging) could be adapted for a data logger?

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Stevie, it sounds like you are looking for demonstrations of things data loggers can do. That really depends on what logger(s) you have and what sensors you have. Most of the loggers at the new wiki ( can do all sorts of environmental data logging with all sorts of sensors. For unattended outdoor logging you need a weatherproof (or waterproof) enclosure and a system that will operate long enough for your needs. Then you need a sensor (or multiple sensors) appropriate to your demonstration.

Environmental data logging is not very exciting until you see the data. So the best demonstrations have radio feeds and the data is available live on the internet or some smaller network. Next best might be a portable display so some data can be seen as it is being saved (e.g., to SD card). Little LCD monitors cost just several dollars and turn a data logger into a data readout device (see this note:

Most data loggers save barebones data files (just numbers and commas) so you have to work out a system for transferring the data to a computer and parsing them so they can be interpreted. There are ways to have data graphed or mapped automatically, but usually some human intervention is needed to make the data accessible to your audience. The data file is not the end product -- summarizing and presenting the data often takes more skill than writing the Arduino sketches that make the loggers work.

All of the microcontroller based data loggers run on batteries, so they can become portable environmental probes. Especially if you have a little LCD monitor, you can walk around and reveal spatial patterns of environmental variables (see this note: Ideally, a moving data logger would have a GPS sensor so each data point saved also has location data (see this note:

Many sensors are very inexpensive (<$10.00) and provide simple measurements (temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, brightness, noise level, movement, tilt angle, etc). Sometimes that is all you need, but often you have to adapt a simple sensor to tell you what you really want to know. For example, a tilt sensor in a float on a long arm can reveal changes in the level of the water the float is on. Or a noise sensor by a road can tell you how many cars drove past.

It sounds like you are interested in sensing water. Most sensors are not waterproof, so some engineering might be required to use them in or near water. A few sensors are designed for submersion (e.g., the DS18B20 temperature sensor). For long term deployment the data logger itself also has to be weatherproofed, so more engineering is called for.

DIY data logging has been a popular field for many years and there is endless information about it. One of the big challenges of doing it is that it involves a little bit of programming, electronics, engineering, data wrangling, and patience. It's a rare data logging exercise that does not push my limits in two or three of those areas, which is why I included the last item in the list. Arduinos are finicky little scoundrels, so be prepared.

So yes, lots of activities can be dreamed up to demonstrate data logging. What's your budget, time frame, and objective (and tolerance for setbacks)?


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These are some really good questions, many of which get at the question of "constraints" -- i.e. what constraints are you designing towards? A specific cost, size, weight, # of parts or complexity... as well as an audience you're designing for (even if that's just yourself!)

I think this is a really helpful thing for any project or posting (on or elsewhere!) to lay out up front -- sort of like the design philosophy section of the aerial mapping page.

For this case, I think we're looking for what an initial 'shakedown' or even an onboarding activity might look like -- one where, in a more controlled setting, someone new to a given logger could try it out at lower risk, to confirm something they already know -- say, a hot and a cold bucket of water -- and make sure the logger is doing what they expect it to.

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Hi Chris, thanks a bunch! I'm hoping we can work on developing out an activity of two for people to do in first experimenting with data loggers as a number of people will be getting the Riffle soon. I think it would be neat to have a couple things people could try out with different data logger. We're bringing along a nano and a mini-pearl to the Regional Barnraising. I like the idea of using the temperature sensor as a first attempt. I found @pdhixenbaugh post on an activity like this. Seems like a good one to model.

Okay, now I understand the question. It's really helpful to know what data logger hardware you will have. You will have a Nano Logger Kit. You will also have a Mini Pearl Logger Kit, but that will require several hours of soldering, loading code, etc., before it does anything. The Nano Logger Kit can be snapped together in five minutes, a sketch is pre-loaded on the Nano, and the real time clock (RTC) has been set. So you can expect some success collecting data.

The first activity to do with the Nano Logger is to assemble it and connect it to a computer. If you can drive the Arduino IDE (or the new web based version), you should be able to see data from the RTC and the BMP280 pressure and temperature sensor displayed in real time on the computer monitor.

The second activity might be to connect the included battery pack (4 AA required) and place the logger where the barometric pressure and temperature are likely to change over the course of a day or two (until the batteries die). You won't know whether it is working until you remove the microSD card and see what's on it.

The third activity might be to power the Nano Logger with the included DC converter (plugged into the wall) and let it log data for as long as you want. If everything goes well, there will be interesting data on the SD card.

All three of these activities are outlined in the included assembly and use guide for the Nano Logger Kit (see it here).

Another activity might be to change the interval at which the Nano Logger logs data. It comes programmed to log every five seconds. To change that, you must have a copy of the sketch that is on the Nano which is conveniently available here. Open that sketch in the Arduino IDE, edit it, save, it, and load it onto the Nano Logger via USB.

While you are editing the sketch, you might also want to edit the entry for sea level barometric pressure in the sketch. Find the current value at a weather site, find it in the sketch, and change it. The sketch uses that value to compute elevation from barometric pressure.

The BMP280 sensor is not waterproof. It reads barometric pressure and temperature. If you carry the Nano Logger around with you while you hike up a mountain (even one with its top removed), it will serve as an altimeter. When you get back you can graph your hike in two dimensions (time and elevation).

Another good activity might be parsing the data file saved on the microSD card. The file is nothing but numbers and commas. The workflow to get something meaningful from that file will depend on your computer, your software, and your experience getting something meaningful from data files.

A successful group activity might benefit from a few extras: spare AA batteries, backup microSD card, backup microSD card reader, longer USB cable, longer I2C Dupont wires. You need a very small flathead screwdriver to connect the logger to the battery pack or DC converter (Don't let a screwdriver near the logger when the power source is on).

I expect a full report.

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Carol chipped in on the mailing lists:

My first question is, similar to Chris's, what can the data loggers do? Conductivity? Turbidity? pH, dissolved oxygen? We could put different things in jars of water like known amounts of salt (e.g. make a calibration curve of salt concentration vs response, to make sure it's linear), and mix salt (inorganic) with food coloring (organic). Does the presence of food coloring affect the salt measurement, which might be applicable to complex environmental systems where there are inorganics and organics present? I'll keep thinking...

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Responses from the mailing lists:

Hi Carol! So excited to work on this at Barnraising! Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but the data loggers will collect and store the data (also potentially transmit!) from whatever sensor we figure to add to it. So if, like we're talking about here, we're interested in temperature, we'll add a sensor for that.

Best, Stevie

@cfastie posted back::

That is correct, the loggers can have many different kinds of sensors connected to them. Several sensors can be connected at the same time. Most loggers do not come with any sensors by default, although many have a real time clock with a thermometer which can be read and reported. The Nano Logger Kit comes with a sensor for barometric pressure and temperature. The sketch loaded on the Nano will start reading that sensor, saving the data to SD card, and displaying it on the serial monitor. If you connect another sensor, the sketch will have to be modified.

The Mini Pearl Logger Kit does not come with a sensor, but the starter sketch for it (available here) will read time and temperature data from the real time clock, save it to SD card, and display it on the serial monitor.

Although these loggers can send data via USB to a computer and display it (serial monitor), transmitting the data elsewhere requires additional hardware (e.g., a radio for wifi or cellular).

Carol's list of parameters that sensors should sense (Conductivity? Turbidity? pH, dissolved oxygen?) includes some of the top picks for water quality monitoring. Unfortunately, inexpensive, off-the-shelf sensors can't sense those things. One could use inexpensive components to make a conductivity sensor or turbidity sensor, but that is a rather big project. One can buy sensors for those parameters, but they cost maybe $100 to $400 and might not work with some Arduino based sensors.

The realm of DIY data logging is a small subset of the realm of environmental sensing.

Carol's response:

Thanks, this is helpful. Coming from the environmental field in academia I have no idea what is available at low cost, and am looking forward to learning more and helping design studies for what is available.

So at the Barnraising, will we have different sensors to play with (and which ones)? Just temperature and time? I guess I'm still confused on how to help answer your original question, Stevie.

Best, Carol

Stevie's response:

Hi, Thanks again for clarifications and follow ups. Carol for the question I posted, was looking for activities to "get acquainted" with the data loggers. Especially for people who have a water interest. For example: "What type of activity could we test out doing at the Barnraising in an hour or so with the data logger (or loggers) we're bringing?"

I'm interested in exploring what that activity might be in hopes we could test it out and write it up so others can do it as a "first step to working with your data logger."

I think we'll have a few data loggers at the Barnraising, including some of the ones Chris mentioned, and one or two sensors - definately temperature. These clarifications and follow up questions are really helpful!


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