Engineer an LED Night-Light *
|Areas of Science||
Electricity & Electronics
|Time Required||Short (2-5 days)|
AbstractNight-lights can be found in many homes; you might even have one in your bedroom! Using a night-light is a great way to avoid stubbing your toe on furniture during a midnight trip to the bathroom. In this fun engineering project, you will design and build your own night-light. You will need to build the circuit, but you will also need to think about the physical design of the product. Most people probably do not want an ugly, bare circuit board sitting around their house. Can you make a functional, aesthetically pleasing case or enclosure for your circuit? You could make a case using craft materials, wood, or even a 3D printer if you have access to one.
If you need some help getting started and learning how to build an LED night-light circuit, first watch this video for an overview and explanation of how the circuit works:
As you saw in the video, you will need to make some design decisions for your circuit. The major decision is whether to make it battery-powered or wall-powered. The voltage of your power supply (3 V for 2xAA/2xAAA/coin cell batteries, 5 V for USB wall power) will determine the required resistance of the current-limiting resistor in series with the LED. If you are not familiar with Ohm's Law or how to calculate the current through an LED, see the references in the Bibliography.
The circuit required to build an LED night-light is very similar to the one in our Light Tracking Bristlebot project. If you have already purchased the kit for that project, you can reuse many of the parts. If not, here is the main list of parts you will need. Remember that the exact parts you use may vary depending on some of your design decisions.
- Mini breadboard or protoboard
- Power supply, such as a 2xAA or 2xAAA battery holder. For wall power you will need a USB wall adapter and either a USB cable or male USB plug. You will need to connect to the proper pins in the USB adapter—see the Bibliography.
- Super bright LED, available in different colors.
- Current-limiting resistor to put in series with the LED. You can calculate an exact value for the resistor as described in the Bibliography references. However, if you already have some resistors laying around, something in the 30–50 Ω range should work with a 3 V power supply.
- Potentiometer. The potentiometer used in the example circuit has a resistance of 10 kΩ. Other values should work, as long as the resistance of the photoresistor is not dramatically larger or smaller (see next point).
- Photoresistor. The photoresistor used in the example circuit has a quoted resistance range of 16 kΩ (light) to 500 kΩ (dark). Other values will work as long as they are roughly in the same range as the potentiometer (i.e. both in the tens of kilo-ohms). Do not use a 100 Ω potentiometer with a 20 MΩ photoresistor, or the circuit will not work properly (see the Bibliography reference about voltage dividers to learn more).
- Transistor. The transistor in the example circuit is an N-channel MOSFET. There are many different types of transistors, and you could build this circuit using other types with some small modifications. See the Bibliography to learn more.
- Jumper wires, which come in a variety of assorted kits.
To wire the circuit, see the diagrams in Figures 1 and 2. Figure 1 shows the connections directly between the leads of the different circuit components. You can use this diagram if you plan to solder the circuit yourself on a protoboard (you will need to decide how to arrange the components). Figure 2 shows the circuit on a breadboard. You can follow this diagram exactly. If you do not know how to use a breadboard, see the breadboard tutorial in the Bibliography.
Figure 1. Wiring diagram for the LED night-light circuit. Image made with Fritzing.
Figure 2. Breadboard diagram for LED night-light circuit. Image made with Fritzing.
How does the circuit work? Remember to watch the video (starting at about 3:25) for an explanation. Figure 3 shows a copy of the schematic. See the Bibliography if you do not know how to read a circuit schematic. The potentiometer and photoresistor are combined to form a voltage divider. The output of the voltage divider turns the MOSFET on and off (therefore turning the LED on and off) depending on the amount of light hitting the photoresistor. The potentiometer allows you to adjust the threshold at which the LED will turn on.
Figure 3. Circuit schematic for the LED night-light.
Cite This PageGeneral citation information is provided here. Be sure to check the formatting, including capitalization, for the method you are using and update your citation, as needed.
Last edit date: 2019-03-02
- SparkFun Electronics (n.d.). Voltage, Current, Resistance, and Ohm's Law. Retrieved February 18, 2019 from https://learn.sparkfun.com/tutorials/voltage-current-resistance-and-ohms-law/all
- SparkFun Electronics (December 2, 2010). LED Current Limiting Resistors. Retrieved February 18, 2019 from https://www.sparkfun.com/tutorials/219%3c
- Wikipedia contributors (n.d.). USB (Physical) - Pinouts. Retrieved February 18, 2019 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USB_(Physical)#Pinouts
- SparkFun Electronics (n.d.). Voltage Dividers. Retrieved February 18, 2019 from https://learn.sparkfun.com/tutorials/voltage-dividers/all
- SparkFun Electronics (n.d.). Transistors. Retrieved February 18, 2019 from https://learn.sparkfun.com/tutorials/transistors/all
- Finio, B. (n.d.). How to Use a Breadboard. Science Buddies. Retrieved February 18, 2019 from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/references/how-to-use-a-breadboard
- SparkFun Electronics (n.d.). How to Read a Schematic. Retrieved February 18, 2019 from https://learn.sparkfun.com/tutorials/how-to-read-a-schematic/all
News Feed on This Topic
Recent Feedback Submissions
|Sort by Date||Sort by User Name|
What was the most important thing you learned?
The most important thing I learned was how circuitry worked within the modern world
What problems did you encounter?
Can you suggest any improvements or ideas?
Science Buddies materials are free for everyone to use, thanks to the support of our sponsors. What would you tell our sponsors about how Science Buddies helped you with your project?
I would inform others about how the applicable knowledge gained from this allows for a greater understanding of how LED lights function through the tools of batteries, wires, and more.
Overall, how would you rate the quality of this project?
What is your enthusiasm for science after doing your project?
Compared to a typical science class, please tell us how much you learned doing this project.
|Do you agree?||Report Inappropriate Comment|
Ask an ExpertThe Ask an Expert Forum is intended to be a place where students can go to find answers to science questions that they have been unable to find using other resources. If you have specific questions about your science fair project or science fair, our team of volunteer scientists can help. Our Experts won't do the work for you, but they will make suggestions, offer guidance, and help you troubleshoot.
Ask an Expert
If you like this project, you might enjoy exploring these related careers:
Electrical & Electronics EngineerJust as a potter forms clay, or a steel worker molds molten steel, electrical and electronics engineers gather and shape electricity and use it to make products that transmit power or transmit information. Electrical and electronics engineers may specialize in one of the millions of products that make or use electricity, like cell phones, electric motors, microwaves, medical instruments, airline navigation system, or handheld games. Read more
Commercial & Industrial DesignerHave you always loved art? Do you have a good eye for beauty, balance, and form? How would you like to see your designs show up in toy stores? Or in a sporting goods store? Or at a car dealer? Commercial and industrial designers create the shape and form of every type of manufactured good that you can think of—from toys, sporting goods, and medical equipment to high technology products, furniture, toothbrushes, and toasters. They design the form of new products that are as beautiful and pleasing to look at as they are functional. Read more
News Feed on This Topic
Looking for more science fun?
Try one of our science activities for quick, anytime science explorations. The perfect thing to liven up a rainy day, school vacation, or moment of boredom.Find an Activity
Explore Our Science Videos
Stretchy Balloons! Fun STEM Activity
BlueBot 4-in-1 Robotics Kit
Make a Water Strider - STEM Activity