Lock-in Amplifiers

What Is A Lock-In Amplifier

Digital Lock-in Amplifiers – Low Cost Lock In Amplifier

lock-in amplifier (also known as a phase-sensitive detector) is a type of amplifier that can extract a signal with a known carrier wave from an extremely noisy environment (the signal-to-noise ratio can be -60 dB or even less. It is essentially a homodyne detector followed by a steep low pass filter, making it very narrow band. Practical lock-in amplifiers use mixing, through a frequency mixer, to convert the signal’s phase and amplitude to a DC — actually a time-varying low-frequency — voltage signal.

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The device is often used to measure phase shift, even when the signals are large and of high signal-to-noise ratio, and do not need further improvement.

Recovering signals at low signal-to-noise ratios requires a strong, clean reference signal the same frequency as the received signal. This is not the case in many experiments, so the instrument can recover signals buried in the noise only in a limited set of circumstances.

The lock-in amplifier is commonly believed to be invented by Princeton University physicist Robert H. Dicke who founded the company Princeton Applied Research (PAR) to market the product. However, in an interview with Martin Harwit, Dicke claims that even though he is often credited with the invention of the device, he believes he read about it in a review of scientific equipment written by Walter C Michels, a professor at Bryn Mawr College. This was probably a 1941 paper by Michels and Curtis, which in turn cites a 1934 paper by C. R. Cosens.

Operation of a lock-in amplifier relies on the orthogonality of sinusoidal functions. Specifically, when a sinusoidal function of frequency ν is multiplied by another sinusoidal function of frequency μ not equal to ν and integrated over a time much longer than the period of the two functions, the result is zero. In the case when μ is equal to νand the two functions are in phase, the average value is equal to half of the product of the amplitudes.

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In essence, a lock-in amplifier takes the input signal, multiplies it by the reference signal (either provided from the internaloscillator or an external source), and integrates it over a specified time, usually on the order of milliseconds to a few seconds. The resulting signal is a DC signal, where the contribution from any signal that is not at the same frequency as the reference signal is attenuated close to zero. The out-of-phase component of the signal that has the same frequency as the reference signal is also attenuated (because sine functions are orthogonal to the cosine functions of the same frequency), making a lock-in a phase-sensitive detector.