I worked with Kevin and Gautam to create a heater circuit. The first attachment is Kevin's schematic of the circuit. The OP amp connects to the gate of the power MOSFET, and the power supply connects to the drain, while the source goes into the heater. We set the power supply voltage to 22V and varied the voltage of the input to the OP amp. At 6V to the OP amp, we got a current of 0.35A flowing through the heater and resistor. This was the peak current we got due to the OP amp being saturated (an increase in either of the power supplies did not change the current), but when we increased the voltage of the supply rails of the OP amp from 15V to 20V, we got a current of 0.5A. We would want a higher current than this, so we will need to get a different OP amp with a higher max voltage rating, and a resistor that can take more power than this one (it currently takes 5W of power, and is the best one we could find).
Kevin and I created a simulation of this circuit using CircuitLab to understand why the current was so low (second attachment). The horizontal axis is the voltage we supply to the OP amp. The blue line shows the voltage at the point between the output of the OP amp and the gate of the MOSFET. The orange line is the voltage at the point between the source of the MOSFET and the heater. The brown line is the voltage at the point between the heater and resistor. Thus, we can see that saturation occurs at about 2.1V. At that point, the gate-source voltage is the difference between the blue curve and the orange curve, which is about 4V, which is what we measured. Likewise, the voltage across the heater is the difference between the orange curve and the brown curve, which comes out to around 8V, which is also what we measured. Lastly, the voltage across the resistor is the brown curve, which is about 2V, which matches our observations. The circuit works as it should, but saturates too soon to get a high enough current out of it.
Gautam noted that it is important to measure the current correctly. We can't just use an ammeter and place it across the resistor or heater, because the internal resistance of the ammeter (~0.5 ohm) is comparable to the resistance we want to measure, so the current gets split between the circuit and the ammeter and we get an equivalent resistance of 1/R = 1/R0 + 1/Ra, where R0 is the resistance of the part we want to measure the current across, and Ra is the ammeter resistance. Thus, the new resistance will be lower and the ammeter will show a higher current value than what is actually there. So to accurately measure the current, we must place the ammeter in series with the part we want to measure. We initially got a 1A reading on the heater, which was not correct, and our setup did not heat up at all basically. When we placed the ammeter in series with the heater, we got only 0.35A.
The last two images are the setup for testing of the heater. We wrapped it around an aluminum piece and covered it with a few layers of insulating material. We can stick a thermometer in between the insulation and heater to see the temperature change. In later tests, we may insulate the whole piece so that less heat gets dissipated. In addition, we used a heat sink and thermal paste to secure the MOSFET to it, as it got very hot.
Our next steps will be to get a resistor and an OP amp that are better suited for our purposes. We will also run simulations with components that we choose to make sure that it can provide the desired current of 1A (the maximum output of the power supply is 24V, and the heater is 24 ohm, so max current is 1A). Kevin is working on that now.