What is a breadboard?

Not long ago, I was TAing an electronics lab. The goal of the lab was simple: build a blinking LED circuit.  It takes about 5-10 minutes to throw the pieces together if you don’t have to dig for them. I won’t go into the awesome utility of a 555 timer but suffice it to say, it’s a pretty cool IC for beginners and advanced people alike. Anyway, the point of the story is that I had about twenty students in front of me that were all trying to build a circuit. Why is that worthy of a story? Well, none of them knew what a breadboard was! If you’re here, I’m assuming you may be a little bit unsure yourself. Needless to say, I had to teach about half of the freshman EE student body how to use a breadboard before they blew something up. Too bad a half-dozen polarized capacitors would still meet their end over the course of the lab… Anyway…

A breadboard is a tool for developing prototypes of electrical and electronic circuits. Groups of 5 slots are shorted together by a copper bar on the back. If you look at the provided picture, you’ll see red lines drawn in different locations. That shows the areas which are all the same node. If you connect something at A1, it is connected to B1, C1, D1, and E1. Anything on a + or – row is connected to all points (1-30) of that column. If you wanted to connect something to a resistor that has one wire connected to A1 and one wire connected to C1, you would plug in the wire going into it at A2 and the wire coming out of it at C2. You could also use A3, C4, or any combination thereof. The important thing is that it’s on the same letter. If you want to create a 5V rail, plug your 5V into any + slot and your GND into any – slot. Now you have a ground rail and a power rail that you can tap off of. I usually use one red rail for 5V and another red rail for 9V or 20V, depending on what I’m doing.
Now, you may be asking, what breadboard should I get? I’ve used a fair number of them and the Microtivity type are my favorite. They’re well labeled, look nice, and always have easy to use slots. Some poorly manufactured breadboards have excessively loose or excessively tight connections. There’s really not that much else to say. I use a mixture of these jumper wires and bought this jumper kit. I like the jumpers from the kit because it’s much more organized and neat when you’re done. Having dozens of jumper wires running everywhere makes things difficult to say the least. They still work well though. Something else you might consider buying are these female-to-female jumpers in case you have any male pin-headers anywhere. They’re cheap so it’s a good item to have around just in case you need an extension wire for something. Anyway, that’s about it for everything you need to get started with the rapid prototyping capabilities of breadboards.

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