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Design and evaluation of a Capacitively Coupled Sensor Readout Circuit, toward contact-less ECG and EEG (Electronics Project)

In modern medicine, the measurement of electrophysiological signals play a key role in health monitoring and diagnostics. Electrical activity originating from our nerve and muscle cells conveys real-time information about our current health state. The two most common and actively used techniques for measuring such signals are electrocardiography (ECG) and electroencephalography (EEG).

These signals are very weak, reaching from a few millivolts down to tens of microvolts in amplitude, and have the majority of the power located at very low frequencies, from below 1 Hz up to 40 Hz. These characteristics sets very tough requirements on the electrical circuit designs used to measure them.

Usually, measurement is performed by attaching electrodes with direct contact to the skin using an adhesive, conductive gel to fixate them. This method requires a clinical environment and is time consuming, tedious and may cause the patient discomfort.

This study investigates another method for such measurements; by using a non-contact, capacitively coupled sensor, many of these shortcomings can be overcome. While this method relieves some problems, it also introduces several design difficulties such as: circuit noise, extremely high input impedance and interference.

A capacitively coupled sensor was created using the bottom layer of a printed circuit board (PCB) as a capacitor plate and placing it against the signal source, that acts as the opposite capacitor plate. The PCB solder mask layer and any air in between the two acts as the insulator to create a full capacitor. The signal picked up by this sensor was then amplified by 60 dB with a high input impedance amplifier circuit and further conditioned through filtering.

Two measurements were made of the same circuit, but with different input impedances; one with 10 MΩ and one with 10 GΩ input impedance. Additional filtering was designed to combat interference from the main power lines at 50 Hz and 150 Hz that was discovered during initial measurements. The circuits were characterized with their transfer functions, and the ability to amplify a very low-level, low frequency input signal. The results of these measurements show that high input impedance is of critical importance for the functionality of the sensor and that an input impedance of 10 GΩ is sufficient to produce a signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of 9.7 dB after digital filtering with an input signal of 25 μV at 10 Hz.
Source: Linköping University
Author: Svärd, Daniel

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