Flip Flop and Digital Counter

A large grey, red and grey rectangular exhibit.

Binary counting systems are based on '0' and '1', which may also represent 'ON' and 'OFF' in electronic circuits.

How it works

Drop a disc down through a series of flip flop gates labelled ‘0’ and ‘1’ to model a binary counting system.

Things to try or ask around the exhibit

  • Keep dropping a disc through the gates. What do you notice about the position of the gates?
  • How can you use the numbers to keep track of where the disc fell?
  • What happens when you try to reach 32?

Background

The position of the gates (0 or 1) keeps track of how many times the disc has gone through the system. One flip-flop gate doesn’t collect much information. When you stack gates, the value of each gate doubles as you go down the series.

The first gate asks if you should add 1 to the total, the second gate asks if you should add 2, the third gate asks if you should add 4, and so on. The five gates in this exhibit can only track numbers between 0 and 31.

Binary is used in electronic circuits and software programs to signal switches to turn ‘ON’ and ‘OFF’.

Binary is a useful system because it makes addition simpler. With ten numerals (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9), there are 55 combinations to know when adding numbers. In binary, you need only two numerals (0 and 1) and only three combinations: 0 + 0 = 0, 0 + 1 = 1 1 + 1 = 10.
Binary is best known for its use in computers. Electronic switches make ‘digital decisions’, with '0 signalling OFF and 1 signalling ON.