When the heart beats, a pressure wave moves out along the arteries at a few metres per second (appreciably faster than the blood actually flows). This pressure wave can be felt at the wrist, but it also causes an increase in the blood volume in the tissues, which can be detected by a plethysmograph. This word comes from the Greek "plethysmos" for increase and is a term for a "fullness" (ie change in volume) measuring device. Over the years, all sorts of Heath–Robinson devices have been used but described here is a photoelectric pulse plethysmograph, which is robust and easy to make and which will allow the beating of the heart to be recorded without the need to make direct electrical connections to the body.
Project based on "Calculating the Heart Rate With a Pulse Plethysmograph" from "PICO Technology"