Single Molecule Detects Light

Everything is getting smaller all the time. Computers used to take rooms, then desks, and now they fit in your pocket or on your wrist. Researchers that investigate light sensors have known that individual diarylethene molecules can exist in two states: one where it conducts electricity and one where it doesn’t. A visible photon causes the molecule to be electrically open and ultraviolet causes it to close. But there’s a problem.

light600Placing electrodes on the molecule interferes with the process. Depending on the kind of electrode, the switch will get stuck in the on or off position. Researchers at Peking University in Beijing determined that placing some buffering material between the molecule and the electrodes would reduce the interference enough to maintain correct operation. What’s more the switches remain operable for a year, which is unusually long for this kind of construct.

Using chemical vapor deposition and electron beam lithography, the team produced over 40 working single molecule switches. These devices could be useful in optical computing and other applications. Future work will include developing multilevel switches comprised of multiple molecules.

If you want something more macroscopic, you might try using an LED to sense light. A switch is fine, but sometimes you want to generate a signal.

Disposable Diapers Are A Tribute To Material Science

It’s a really tough problem that has been solved to an amazing level. How do you capture and contain urine from a floppy, curved, and moving human infant? Ah, but the problem is a bit harder than that. You also want to keep that liquid away from the soft skin of the newborn and keep the exterior of your overall system dry too. From an R&D point of view the nice thing is that the customer base is huge — everyone needs some type of diapers. And what we have achieved thus far is a huge accomplishment of material science. [Bill Hammack], The Engineer Guy, takes on the engineering of baby diapers in his latest video.

A diaper uses three inner layers to sweep urine away from baby’s skin. The first layer actually repels water — being injected between skin and this layer, liquid passes through the holes in the material. But the moisture repellent property prevents it from moving in the opposite direction because of the next two layers encountered. The second layer uses capillary action to pull the moisture toward the third (and to act as a one-way moisture valve). The third layer contains a super-absorbent polymer. That layer starts off very thin and swells with absorption.

Bill explores just a bit about how these materials are actually manufactured. The layers are non-woven to form the necessary structures. The absorption layer uses cotton fibers to ensure moisture doesn’t form a dam between polymers. Whether you have a little one in your own household or not, the science behind this solved problem is fascinating and well worth the six minutes you’ll spend on the video below.

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Mining Platinum From The Road

For several decades now all petrol-driven motor vehicles have had to feature a catalytic converter in their exhaust systems to meet the requirements of emissions legislation. These feature a high surface area coated with platinum, palladium, and rhodium, which catalyses the high-temperature breakdown of the exhaust gasses.

When a vehicle reaches the end of its life its catalytic converter is recycled and those metals are recovered, but this recovery does not account for all the metal. [Cody Reeder] noticed that the weight of platinum in a catalytic converter taken from a scrap vehicle is significantly less than that of a new one. Some of that metal has escaped, so where has it gone?

The answer to that question is that it has become detached from the converter and blown out through the rear of the exhaust pipe. Therefore in the area around a busy highway with many thousands of cars passing there must be a reasonable concentration of platinum. The video below the break details [Cody]’s quest to verify that theory, and it opens with him and a friend sweeping dust from beside a freeway in the early hours. The resulting bags contain a lot of gravel and bits of tire, plus a few cigarette butts and a large amount of very fine dust. He sieves away the debris, and heats a sample of dust in a furnace with a flux mixture containing lead oxide. He hopes that as this oxide degrades to metallic lead it will dissolve any platinum and settle in the bottom of his crucible, and indeed when he pours out the resulting slag there is a bead of lead. Taking away the lead reveals a speck of impure platinum, which he further purifies and assays to determine the percentage of platinum and to detect the other catalyst metals.

He finally arrives at a figure of 6.7 g per ton of his fine-sifted roadside dirt “ore”, a figure which as he points out would be considered quite valuable were it to be encountered in a mine. His process might be a little difficult for individuals with sweeping brushes to hit pay dirt and a modern gold rush to descend on their local Interstate, but it’s not impossible that a highways agency equipped with sweeper trucks could have the metal extracted at a more profitable level.

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Hack a Bike Electroetching

[Melka] wanted a track bike, but never quite got around to buying a nice one. Then he found an inexpensive abandoned project bike for 10 Euro. He had to do a lot of work to make it serviceable and he detailed it all in a forum post. What caught our eye, though, was his technique for electroetching.

The process is simple, but [Melka] says the procedure caused hydrochloric acid fumes as a byproduct. Your lungs don’t like HCl fumes. Apart from the danger, you probably have everything you need. He used electrical tape to create a stencil on the metal (although he mentioned that Kapton tape might come off better afterward) and a saturated solution of common table salt as the electrolyte.

Power comes from a bench power supply set to about 24V. The positive lead was connected to the metal and the ground to the sponge. From the photos, it looks like the particular piece and solution caused about 600mA to flow. After 10 minutes, the metal etched out to about 0.2 mm. After the etching, [Melka] brazed some brass into the etched area to make an interesting looking logo.

If you have a laser cutter, you can skip the chemicals. We’ve even seen laser etching combine with a 3D printer to produce PCBs. [Melka’s] method is a little messier and probably would not do fine lines readily, but if you need to etch steel and you don’t mind the fumes, it should be simple to try.

Beyond WD-40: Lubes for the Home Shop

If your shop is anything like mine, you’ve got a large selection of colorful cans claiming to contain the best and absolutely only lubricant you’ll ever need. I’ve been sucked in by the marketing more times than I care to admit, hoping that the next product will really set itself apart from the others and magically unstick all the stuck stuff in my mechanical life. It never happens, though, and in the end I generally find myself reaching for the familiar blue and yellow can of WD-40 for just about every job.

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This Billboard Kills Zika Mosquitoes

Once in a great while, effective advertising doesn’t require any human engagement at all. This billboard, designed and built by a pair of Brazilian ad agencies and set free under the Creative Commons license offers a reproducible solution for trapping Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes, the primary carrier of the Zika virus.

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.

The design seems pretty simple, although the plans leave a bit of explanation to be desired. Inside the billboard are canisters of Lurex 3, a lactic acid-based mosquito attractant that is available pretty cheaply on Amazon. The lactic acid mimics the scent of human sweat and is released outward to distances up to 4km (2.5 miles) in a fine mist along with CO₂. Together, the Lurex and CO₂ act like a sweaty, mouth-breathing human beacon to lure mosquitoes into the billboard, where they become trapped and are doomed to die of dehydration.
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DIY Cast AR-15 Receivers Are More Interesting Than Expected

For some reason the US News media decided on the AR-15 as the poster child of guns that should not be allowed to be made for, or sold to, the consumer. The words still out on the regulation, but, in a very American response, a whole market sprang up around people saying, “Well, then we’ll just make our own AR-15.”

Ordinarily, we wouldn’t cover this sort of thing, but the work [AR-15Mold] is doing is just so dang interesting. They sell a product that enables the home user to cast an AR-15 receiver out of high performance resin. In the process they made a really informative three part video on the casting process.

A lot of people are interested in the product, and having fun with it. In this two part video series, [Liberty Marksman] cast their receivers and test them to destruction. In one video they see how many rounds they can fire out of the gun before it breaks. When it breaks, they excitedly tear down the gun to see where it failed.

It’s quite a bit of fun to watch. Videos after the break.

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