When you first look at the word oscilloscope many may be wondering what the heck it is and how do you pronounce it. In fact, this instrument of electronic measure is used in many diverse industries like medicine, the sciences, engineering, automotive and telecommunications to name but a few.

While it may sound like something only used in a hospital setting–a place where there are many machines and odd sounding devices– it can actually be used in a variety of situations, as it is a device that allows the observation of constantly varying signal voltages. It can be used to ‘watch’ and analyze a car’s ignition system for example or to ‘watch’ a heartbeat as an electrocardiogram.

While the screen will show a 2D plot of one or more signals as a function of time, other signals like sound or vibration can be converted by the oscilloscope into voltages and thus displayed on the device’s screen.

So the answer to what do you do with an oscilloscope is really quite simple, you use it to observe the change of an electrical system over time. Voltage and time describe a shape that is then displayed or graphed against a calibrated scale. What you see can then be noted and analyzed for things such as amplitude, frequency, rise time, time interval and distortion.

Oscilloscopes can also be adjusted to that repetitive signals can be observed as a shape on the screen. There are a few different types of these devices, too, one of which is a storage scope that allows single events to be captured by the device and then displayed for a long time. Some scopes are used for maintenance of electronic equipment and some are used for lab work.

They don’t just read things, however, oscilloscopes have to have probes that are attached to the subject in question whether that subject is a person or a car engine. These probes come in a multitude of designs, sizes and shapes and can be either passive or active in nature. Passive ones have no electronic parts so require no external power source, while active probes use a high impedance high frequency amplifier mounted inside the probe head and a screened lead. While that may sound complicated, they have a low voltage rating and it allows the heads themselves to be quite small, so they are convenient to use especially with modern circuits.