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Instrumentation Amplifiers

EE 483 week 4 - Spring 1998

A common theme in instrumentation deals with how to amplify a small differential signal. Take for example the problem of trying to measure a person's muscle activity. If two probes are placed across a muscle, a small voltage will be generated when the musche tightens (typically on the order of a few millivolts). In order to read this signal into an A/D converter, 1) The signal needs to be amplified to 0-5V (in order to reduce the quantization noise resulting from the A/D process), and 2) The amplifier needs to amplify the difference voltage, rather than amplifying each signal separately and then subtracting. In this section of EE 483, three types of differential amplifiers will be described (1-stage, 2-stage, and 3-stage) along with some differential amplifier IC's. At the end of this week, a student should be able to design a differential amplifier for a given signal. The simplest instrumentation amplifier uses a single operational amplifier (such as an LM741):

R2 V(-) R2 V(+) + Vo


Ideally, the output for this circuit is

R1 Vo = R2 (V(+) V())

Instrumentation Amplifier: The symbol instrumentation amplifier is as follows: for an

The input impedance for the two inputs are: R in(+) = R 1 + R 2 R in() = R 2
V(-) -


The two inputs, V(+) and V(-), allow you to use this circuit several ways. For example: Problem: Design a circuit which amplifies a signal which goes from (4.1,4.3V) to (0,+5V). Solution: The gain is


The output is ideally a gain times the differential input

Vo = k(V + V )
with no gain times the common mode (so that the common mode rejection ratio is infinity). Note that an instrumentaion amplifier has the same symbol as an operation amplifier. While this may cause confusion, you can differentiate between the two by looking for feedback resistors. If there is no feedback, the device in the circuit diagram is probably an instrumentation amplifier. If there is feedback, it's probably an operational amplifier. The circuits to build an instrumentation amplifier are described in the following.

R1 50 gain = R2 = 4.34.1 = 25

Let R1=25k and R2=1k. This gives you the desired spread in output voltages. So that the output increases as the input increases, connect this signal to the V(+) input. To shift the DC level correctly, set V(-) so that Vo=0V with V(+)=4.1V. Hence, the circuit should be

One-Stage Instrumentation Amplifier




+ -

1k 4.1V 1k Signal +
R2 +


R2 Vo

R1 V(+) +

While this circuit is simple, it has some problems. First, the input impedance is not infinite. If the sensor has a high output impedance (i.e. is not able to drieve a 1k load), this circuit may alter the signal you're trying to measure. Second, it is difficult to adjust the gain of this circuit. Instead of having one resistor you could adjust to alter the gain, you have to adjust two resistors: both R1's or R2's. Third, it is difficult to keep the common mode rejection high. If, for example, the lower 25k resistor were 26k (a 4% change), the amplifier's output becomes

R1 Vo = R2 (V(+) V())

One improvement on this circuit is to add a buffer to the inverting and noninverting inputs. This results in the input inpedance going to infinity (in theory), tens of megaohms in practice. While this solution solves the problem of the instrumentation amplifier loading the input, it still has some problems. First, the gain cannot be adjusted without adjusting two resistors at once. Second, the input stages can saturate. For example, if the power supply is +12V and you're trying to measure a 0.1V differential signal, this amplifier will work if that signal is between 5.1V and +5.2V but not if it is between +20V to +20.1V. Because of this, some chips (such as the AD626) use a divide-by-6 for the input stages rather than a gain of one. This allows a +12V supply to work with signals which are up to +72V without saturating the input stage.

Vo = 26V(+) 25V()

Vo = 25.5(V + V ) +0.5(V + + V )
A 4% change in one resistor has resulted in the differential gain changing by 2%, the common mode gain jumping from zero to 0.5, and the common-mode rejection ratio changing from infinity to 51. This sensitivity makes this type of instrumentation difficult to use if a variable gain is desired.

Three-Stage Instrumentation Amplifier

V(-) + Ra R1

One Stage Instrumentation Amplifier withInput Buffering:

R2 Rb Ra R2 + Vo

R1 V(+) +


In order to allow you to adjust the gain with a single resistor. the above circuit can be used. With this configuration, the gain of the amplifier is
R1 Ra Vo = R2 1 + Rb (V(+) V())

resistor for the AMP04. Further, you can adjust the DC offset by applying a signal to the reference input. The AMP04 was designed for low-power consumption (700uA draw) and operation with single-sided power supplies (such as a single battery). Unlike some operational amplifiers, the AMP04 can be operated from a single power supply (from +5 to +15V), making it applicable to uses such as battery operated sensors. The output is limited to 0V on the low side and the power supply on the plus side, however. To prevent slipping of the signals, the reference input allows you to adjust hte DC level. For example, the following circuit

Note that the overall gain can now be adjusted by tuning a single resistor.

Two Op-Amp Instrumentation Amplifier

Rg R1 R2 R3 R4

V(-) V(+) +


is a differential amplifier with a gain from 1 to 1000, uses a single +9V supply, and center's the output voltage at 4.5V.

Using two operational amplifiers, you can design a circuit which has high input impedance, as shown above. The problem with this circuit is that i) Common-mode voltages will tend to saturate the first stage, and ii) It is difficult to adjust the DC offset while measuring a differential voltage. In order to overcome the second problem, the AMP04 was designed:
V(-) V(+)


Rg IN(-) IN(+) VAMP04

Rg V+ Vo Ref Vo

Two Op-Amp Instrumentation Amplifier with Input Buffering & Offset Adjust (AMP04)
V(+) R1 Ref Rg V(-) + R2 R2 + R1 Vo

The main problems with the AMP04 is cost (about $10 each). The buffers can also saturate if the common-mode voltage exceeds the power supply.

AD626 Instrumentation Amplifier:

A second amplifier which has proven useful is the AD626. This amplifier usus a divide-by-6 buffer at the inputs allowing the AD626 to work with signals where the common-mode voltage is six times the power supply of the amplifier without saturating its inputs. Its other features include Pin selectable gains of 10 or 100. Pin 7 floating is a gain of 10. Pin 7 grounded is a gain of 100. Single-sided supply range of +2.4V to +10V. Dual-sided supply of to 6V

R1 + Vo = R g (V V ) + V ref

For the AMP04 IC, R1 = 100k R2 = 11k Rg = external resistor The input buffers have an input impedance on the order of 4G , so this chip will not load the sensor very much. The gain is easilly adjusted by varying Rg - an external