Lifting the lid on the potentiostat: a beginner's guide to understanding electrochemical circuitry and practical operation†
Students who undertake practical electrochemistry experiments for the first time will come face to face with the potentiostat. To many this is simply a box containing electronics which enables a potential to be applied between a working and reference electrode, and a current to flow between the working and counter electrode, both of which are outputted to the experimentalist. Given the broad generality of electrochemistry across many disciplines it is these days very common for students entering the field to have a minimal background in electronics. This article serves as an introductory tutorial to those with no formalized training in this area. The reader is introduced to the operational amplifier, which is at the heart of the different potentiostatic electronic circuits and its role in enabling a potential to be applied and a current to be measured is explained. Voltage follower op-amp circuits are also highlighted, given their importance in measuring voltages accurately. We also discuss digital to analogue and analogue to digital conversion, the processes by which the electrochemical cell receives input signals and outputs data and data filtering. By reading the article, it is intended the reader will also gain a greater confidence in problem solving issues that arise with electrochemical cells, for example electrical noise, uncompensated resistance, reaching compliance voltage, signal digitisation and data interpretation. We also include trouble shooting tables that build on the information presented and can be used when undertaking practical electrochemistry.