Physics You’ve Never Heard Of Provides Power From Waves

“In the future, we’ll be generating a significant fraction of our electricity from harnessing the waves!” People have been saying this for decades, and wave-generated electricity is not a significant fraction of an ant’s poop. It’d be fantastic if this could change.

If you believe the owners of Oscilla Power, the main failing of traditional wave-power generators is that they’ve got too many moving parts. Literally. Metal mechanical parts and their seals and so on are beaten down by sun and salt and surf over time, so it’s expensive to maintain most of the generator designs, and they’re just not worth it.

Oscilla’s generator, on the other hand, has basically no moving parts because it’s based on magnetostriction, or rather on inverse magnetostriction, the Villari effect. Which brings us to the physics.

Magnetostriction_by_ZureksMagnetostriction is the property that magnetic materials can shrink or expand just a little bit when put in a magnetic field. The Villari effect (which sounds much cooler than “inverse magnetostriction”) is the opposite: magnetic materials get more or less magnetic when they’re squeezed.

mpv-shot0001So to make a generator, you put two permanent magnets on either end, and wind coils around magnetostrictive metal bars that are inside the field of the permanent magnets. Squeeze and stretch the bars repeatedly and the net magnetic field inside the coils changes, and you’re generating electricity. Who knew?

Right now, according to The Economist Magazine’s writeup on Oscilla, the price per watt isn’t quite competitive with other renewable energy sources, but it’s looking close. With some more research, maybe we’ll be getting some of our renewable energy from squeezing ferrous bars.

And while we’re on the topic, check out this recent article on magnets, and how they work.

Optimizing Crop Yield With IoT

For a recent hackathon, a group of strangers (now friends!) created Crop Squares — a system designed to optimize crop yield by better tracking weather and soil conditions.

The event was hosted in Madrid called Future Hacks Internet of Things Edition, with the goal to build disruptive IoT solutions to help change the world. In 54 hours.

The concept behind crop squares is to make a graphical user interface using Dizmo that clearly shows the status of your crops in a grid system. For the prototype they used an Arduino Pro Mini with moisture sensors in potted plants to detect moisture levels, while a Raspberry Pi also collected weather data for the area being watched. The Arduino used an ESP8266 WiFi module to transmit the data remotely. To demonstrate how the system could be used in an automated sense, they hooked up another Arduino (this time a Leonardo), to pour water once the moisture levels dropped below a certain threshold.

Crop Squares won the Best Pitch Award as well as the Best Integration of Dizmo — good job guys!

Speaking of moisture sensors — did you know you can build your own using some plaster of paris and nails?

An e-Waste 3D Printer for Every Child?

The lofty goal of making sure every school kid has access to a laptop has yet to be reached when along comes an effort to put a 3D printer in the hands of every kid. And not just any printer – a printer the kid builds from a cheap kit of parts and a little e-waste.

The design of the Curiosity printer is pretty simple, and bears a strong resemblance to an earlier e-waste 3D printer we covered back in December. This one has a laser-cut MDF frame rather than acrylic, but the guts are very similar – up-cycled DVD drives for the X- and Z-axes, and a floppy drive for the Y-axis. A NEMA 17 frame stepper motor provides the oomph needed to drive the filament into an off-the-shelf hot end, and an Arduino runs the show. The instructions for assembly are very clear and easy to follow, although we suspect that variability in the sizes of DVD and floppy drives could require a little improvisation at assembly time. But since the assembly of the printer is intended to be as educational as its use, throwing a little variability into the mix is probably a good idea.

The complete kit, less only the e-waste drives and power supply, is currently selling for $149USD. That’s not exactly free, but it’s probably within range of being funded by a few bake sales. Even with the tiny print volume, this effort could get some kids into 3D printers early in their school career.


IndieGoGo Project Offers DNA Editing For The Home

CRISPR is the new darling of the genetics world, because it allows you to easily edit DNA. It is far more effective than previous techniques, being both precise and relatively easy to use. According to this IndieGoGo project, it is coming to your home lab soon. Genetic researchers love Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) because it allows you to very precisely edit a DNA strand. Using a protein called CAS9, CRISPR can find a very specific sequence in a DNA sequence and cut it. It occurs naturally in cells as part of the immune system: by finding and remembering parts of virus DNA, a cell can recognize and attack it when infected. For the genetics researcher, this allows them to insert new DNA sequences at specific points in the genes of any living cell.

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Air Quality Surveillance for Whole Cities

Air quality is becoming a major issue these days, and not just for cities like Beijing and Los Angeles. It’s important for health, our environment, and our economy no matter where we live. To that end, [Radu] has been working on air quality monitors that will be widely deployed in order to give a high-resolution air quality picture, and he’s starting in his home city of Timisoara, Romania.

[Radu] built a similar device to measure background radiation (a 2014 Hackaday Prize Semifinalist), and another to measure air quality in several ways (a 2015 Hackaday Prize Finalist and a Best Product Finalist; winners will be announced next weekend). He is using the platforms as models for his new meter. The device will use a VOC air sensor and an optical dust sensor in a mobile unit connected to a car to gather data, and from that a heat map of air quality will be generated. There are also sensors for temperature, pressure, humidity, and background radiation. The backbone of the project is a smart phone which will upload the data to a server.

We’ve seen other air quality meters before as well, and even ones based around the Raspberry Pi,  but this one has a much broader range of data that it is acquiring. Its ability to be implemented as an array of sensors to gather data for an entire city is impressive as well. We can envision sensor networks installed on public transportation but to get to all parts of every neighborhood it would be interesting to team up with the Google Streetview Cars, Uber, or UPS.

Stellarator is Germany’s Devilishly Complex Nuclear Fusion

You may not have heard of a Stellarator before, but if all goes well later this month in a small university town in the far northeast of Germany, you will. That’s because the Wendelstein 7-X is finally going to be fired up. If it’s able to hold the heat of a fusion-capable plasma, it could be a huge breakthrough.

So what’s a stellarator? It’s a specific type of nuclear fusion containment geometry that, while devilishly complex to build and maintain, stands a chance at being the first fusion generator to achieve break-even, where the energy extracted from the fusion reaction is greater or equal to the energy used in creating the necessary hot plasma.

There’s an awesome video on the W7-X, and some of the theory behind the reactor just below the break.

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Bioluminescent Challenge has Students Feeding Their Lamps

[Tom Lombardo] is an engineer and an educator. When a company sent him a Dino Pet–a bioluminescent sculpture–he found it wasn’t really usable as a practical light source. He did, however, realize it would be an interesting STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) project for students to produce bioluminescent sculptures.

The lamps (or sculptures, if you prefer) contain dinoflagellates which is a type of plankton that glows when agitated. Of course, they don’t put out a strong light and–the main problem–you have to agitate the little suckers to get them to emit light. [Tom] found that there was a mild afterglow when you stop shaking, but not much. You can get an idea of how much light they make in the video below. The idea for a school project would be to make practical ambient lighting that didn’t require much input power to agitate the plankton.

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