This is a testing site only. See the live Public Lab site here »

Public Lab Wiki documentation

555 Conductivity Meter

This is a revision from July 12, 2014 21:13. View all revisions
2 | 7 | | #10683

« Back to Open Water

Reposted from Don Blair's earlier note.


This circuit modifies the 555 Blinky LED circuit to blink an LED at a frequency that is inversely proportional to the conductivity of a solution. We built a bunch of them during the 7/12/14 Water Quality Workshop @ MIT Media Lab and tested them out!




How to build it

Salt solution: We used 100 ml water in five different solutions


1 - No salt (distilled water). 2 - 100 mg (low salt). 3 - 425 mg (medium salt). 4 - 1100 mg (high salt). 6 - 5000 mg (brine - similar to salt water).

A good explanation of conductivity and salinity

We used this page to compare salinity to real-world samples


Water bottle setup: Cut the top off and fill your water bottle to 100 ml


Build your sensor Two screws in the cap, roughly 1 cm apart and attached to alligator clips -- this is your sensor and goes in place of R2

Pictures of built sensors





Output to Arduino

Here's some Arduino code to monitor the output (more explanation tomorrow), as well as measure the temperature (an important variable for conductivity):

A preliminary test showed a nice, solid, repeatable relationship between conductivity and the average 555 timer pulse duration (y axis is average pulse duration in seconds, x axis is index of data points, sampled every few seconds -- the probe was initially placed in a higher conductivity solution, then then briefly in a lower conductivity for three separate stretches (indicated by the three higher plateaus)) ...



Tone generator dance machine version - swap output to an audio cable - add a potentiometer to drop the voltage to a safe range for your computer - limit max voltage 0.5V (without no pot the output is 2.8V) - feed it into a tone generator -- make some tunes!

Capacitor swap analog synth version - swap 10uf cap for .01uf cap - add a piezo speaker in parallel with your LED - instead of clicks, you hear distinguishable tones! - one whole step between salinity #4 and #6 -- noticeable difference!

(note: with the smaller capacitor the LED will not blink for either circuit -- it's blinking too fast and looks like it's permanently on)

See also: open water wiki