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In a previous blog [1] I wrote: *During my academic career I have observed that one of the most difficult subjects to teach as well as to learn is systems theory. All those poles and zeros may make sense in class, but once the student tries to relate them to a physical circuit in the lab, there seems to be a chasm between the blackboard and the bench. *In the present blog I’ll try to develop a physical feel for poles and zeros, using an op amp to control their location in the complex plane, and using the natural response of a circuit to illustrate the effect of pole/zero location.

**The natural response of a one-port**

Consider the passive linear one-port of **Figure 1**, consisting of resistors, capacitors, and inductors.

Figure 1

If we apply a test current *I*(*s*), the one-port will yield a voltage *V*(*s*) such that *V*(*s*) = *Z*(*s*)*I*(*s*), where *I*(*s*) and *V*(*s*) are the Laplace transforms of the applied current and the resulting voltage, and *s* is the complex frequency, in sec^{– 1}. Mother Nature is such that the impedance *Z*(*s*) takes on the form of a *rational function* of *s*, that is, the ratio of a *numerator* polynomial *N*(*s*) and a *denominator* polynomial *D*(*s*),

The roots of the equation *N*(*s*) = 0 are called the *zeros* of *Z*(*s*), and are denoted as *z*_{1}, *z*_{2},… The roots of the equation *D*(*s*) = 0 are called the *poles* of *Z*(*s*), and are denoted as *p*_{1}, *p*_{2},… Collectively, poles and zeros are referred to as *roots*, or also as *critical frequencies*. As an example, the impedance

has a zero at *s* = 0 and a complex-conjugate pole pair at *s* = –3 ± *j*4. Expressing it in terms of its roots,

The *zero *and *pole* designations stem from the fact if we plot the magnitude |Z(*s*)| versus *s*, the resulting curve appears as a tent pitched on the *s* plane and such that it touches the s plane at the zeros, and its height becomes infinite at the poles.

Figure 2

To develop a physical feel for poles [2], note that if we apply a current *I*(*s*) with *s* close to a pole *p _{k}*, we can achieve a given voltage

(2)

where *a*_{1}, *a*_{2,},… are suitable coefficients (in volts) that depend on the stored energies, and the poles of *Z*(*s*) are the inverses of the time-constants appearing in the exponents.

What about the zeros of *Z*(*s*)? Refer now to **Figure 3**, representing the dual situation of **Figure 1**. The applied signal is now a voltage *V*(*s*) and the response is a current *I*(*s*) = [1/*Z*(*s*)]*V*(*s*), indicating that the zeros of *Z*(*s*) are now the poles of 1/*Z*(*s*). By dual reasoning, in the limit *s* → *z _{k}* the one-port will supply a nonzero current even with zero applied voltage, or a short circuit (see

(3)

where *b*_{1}, *b*_{2},… are suitable coefficients (in Amperes) that depend on the stored energies, and the zeros of *Z*(*s*) are the inverses of the time-constants appearing in the exponents.

Figure 3

**Summarizing, the natural responses of a one-port are governed by the roots of its impedance Z(s): the poles govern the open-circuit voltage response v_{n}(t), and the zeros govern the short-circuit current response i_{n}(t). In a way, the roots are like the DNA of the one-port. **As an example, consider the one-port of

Clearly, we have *z*_{1} = –1/(*R*_{1}*C*) = –1/(10 ms) and *p*_{1} = –1/[(*R*_{1} + *R*_{2})*C*] = –1/(30 ms). Moreover, we have *a*_{1} = [20/(10 + 20)]9 = 6 V and *b*_{1} = 9/10 = 0.9 mA. Consequently,

Figure 4

**Single pole control**

In the circuit of **Figure 5 a** the impedance between the node denoted as

(4)

Figure 5

No matter how we choose the values of *R* and *C*, the pole of this circuit will always be *negative*. We wish to find ways to control it so as to drive it to *zero* or make it even *positive*. **Figure 5 b** shows a circuit that will do the job. The non-inverting amplifier senses

where *R*_{2} represents the portion of the potentiometer between its left end and the wiper. With the given component values, varying the wiper from the left end to the right end will cause *k* to vary over the range 0 __<__ *k* __<__ 2. Now, the voltage across *R*_{3} is (1 + *k*)*v _{n}* –

With the given component values we have *R _{eq}* = (10 kΩ)/(1 –

(7)

Let us discuss circuit operation as a function of the wiper setting, using also the PSpice circuit of **Figure 6** to visualize the ensuing natural response types.

- With the wiper all the way to the left (
*k*= 0), the voltage drop across*R*_{3}is zero, so*R*_{3}carries zero current and*C*is discharging via*R*with a time constant of 1 ms, as in Equation (4). - As we move the wiper to the right,
*R*_{3}now sources current to*C*. So long as this current is less than that sunk by*R*,*C*will still be discharging exponentially, but at a slower rate than when*k*= 0. - With the wiper midway (
*k*= 1), the current sourced by*R*_{3}equals that sunk by*R*, for a net capacitor current of zero, so the capacitor voltage remains constant with time. - Moving the wiper further to the right (
*k*> 1) makes the sourced current prevail over the sunk current, so now*C*charges up exponentially to yield a diverging response. The response will grow until the op amp saturates.

Figure 6

**Figure 7** depicts pole location as a function of *k*.

Figure 7

[Continue reading on EDN US: Pole pair control]

*Sergio Franco is an author and (now emeritus) university professor.*

**Related articles**:

- The significance of poles and zeros
- A pole, a zero and a transformer
- Demystifying pole-zero doublets