Home Made Farnsworth Fusor

The Farnsworth Fusor is a fascinating device, a reactor that fuses hydrogen into helium by creating a plasma under a very high voltage. Although it isn’t a practical way to generate energy, it is a fascinating way to see nuclear fusion. An increasing number of home experimenters are starting to build their own fusors, and [Erik] decided he wanted to be among them. He’s put together a great build log of his progress, starting with a propane tank he bought off craigslist. He added a window, a vacuum pump and a 40KV power supply. Once he added some deuterium (electrolyzed from heavy water he bought from United Nuclear) it was ready to go. After a couple of failed runs, he got the characteristic plasma glow that shows that the reactor is working. The central globe is the plasma, while the light on the left side is a beam of electrons freed by the fusion process. So far, [Erik] has not detected the high-energy neutrons that would show that fusion is underway, but he is close.

Needless to say, this is not a casual build. [Erik] is using a 40KV power supply that would kill you in a heartbeat if your body happened to be the easiest pathway to ground, especially as the power supply is generating pulls over 9 amps to create the fusion reaction. [Erik] joins a select group of amateur fusor builders called the Plasma Club. It isn’t the first Farnsworth Fusor that we have covered, but it is one of the most impressive.

Growing Algae For Fun And Profit

Supposedly, writes [Severin], algae is a super food, can be used as biofuel, and even be made into yoga mats. So he’s built an algal reactor at Munich Maker Lab, to try to achieve a decent algal yield.

You might expect that  sourcing live algae would be as simple as scraping up a bit of green slime from a nearby pond, but that yields an uncertain mix of species. [Severin] wanted Chlorella algae for his experiment because its high fat content makes it suitable for biodiesel experiments, so had to source his culture from an aquatic shop.

The reactor takes the form of a spiral of transparent plastic tube surrounding a CFL lamp as a light source, all mounted on a lasercut wooden enclosure housing a pump. A separate glass jar forms a reservoir for the algal-rich water. He does not mention whether or not he adds any nutrient to the mix.

Left to its own devices the machine seems to work rather well, a 48 hour session yielding an impressively green algal soup. Sustained running does cause a problem though, the pipes block up with accumulated algae and the machine needs cleaning by blasting it with high pressure water and a healthy dose of nuts and bolts.

This isn’t the first algal reactor we’ve featured here on Hackaday, we had this Arduino-powered one back in 2009. But mostly the algae that have appeared here have been of the bioluminescent variety, as with this teaching project, or this night light.

Critter Twitter Trap Traps Critters, Pings Twitter

Got aliens in your attic? Squirrels in the skirting board? You need a trap, and [John Mangan] has come up with an interesting way to let you know that you have caught that pesky varmint: the IoT Critter Twitter Trap. By adding a ball switch, Electric Imp and a couple of batteries to a trap, he was able to set the trap to notify him when it caught something over Twitter. To do this, he programmed the Electric Imp to send a message over when a varmint trods on the panel inside the trap, slamming its door shut. The whole thing cost him less than $60 and can be seen in action after the break.

This is a pretty neat hack. I used to help with a Feral Fix program, where feral cats would be trapped, neutered and returned to the wild. This involved baiting the trap, then waiting hours in the cold nearby for the ferals to get comfortable enough to climb inside and trigger the trap. [John’s] version would only work indoors (as it uses WiFi), but it wouldn’t be that difficult to add a cell phone dongle or other RF solution to extend the range. With this hack, I could have at least waited somewhere warmer, while the trap would ping me when it was triggered.

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Start Your Day the Arduino Way with this IoT Shower Controller

No longer content with adding value to the thermostat in the hallway or making your fridge smarter than it should be, IoT vendors are pushing into the inner sanctum of homes, the holy of holies – the bathroom. Sure, you can spend big bucks on an electronically controlled valve to turn your shower into a remote-controlled spa that shares your bathing habits with the cloud, but if you’re on a more modest budget and have the hacker spirit, you might want to check out this DIY automated shower valve with IoT features.

When we last ran into [TVMiller], he was opening gates using Jedi mind tricks, and before that he was shrinking a floating golf green to a manageable size. Such hacks work up a sweat, and while a clean hacker is a happy hacker, all that pesky valve-twisting and temperature-fiddling is so annoying. So with a few parts acquired from the waste stream, like an acrylic box, some salvaged servos, popsicle sticks, and a hell of a lot of caulk, [TVMiller] hacked together a feature-packed controller for his existing shower valves. An Arduino MKR1000 reads the water temperature and controls the servos that allow him to start the shower from his phone. Time and temperature data are sent to the cloud using ThingSpeak. You can see the whole thing in action in the mildly-NSFW video after the break.

Admittedly, this is a pretty janky setup, but it falls under the universal hacker disclaimer of “it’s just a prototype.” Still, we like the idea of retrofitting standard shower valves, and the popsicle-stick parallelograms for increasing leverage is a neat trick. We’ll be watching to see where this goes next.

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Hard Drive Disassembly is Easy and Rewarding

Have any dead hard drives kicking around? Hackaday alum [Jeremy Cook] shows how easy it is to disassemble a hard drive to scavenge its goodies. The hardest part is having the patience and the tools to get past all those screws that stand between you and the treasure inside.

The case screws are frequently of the Torx variety. Any self-respecting hacker probably has one or two of these already, but if you’re in the market, [Jeremy] recommends a nice set that looks way better than ours. Once the case is open, you can find rare earth magnets, bearings, and one or more platters.

Those terrifically strong magnets are good for all kinds of projects. Glue a couple of them to the back of an attractive piece of wood, mount it on the kitchen wall, and you have yourself a knife block. Keep a couple on the bench to temporarily magnetize tools. Use them to build a pickup to amplify a cigar box guitar or thumb piano. Or run the pickup into a small amplified speaker and wave it like a stethoscope near your electronics to hear them hum. As far as liberating the magnets goes, [Jeremy] resorted to clamping his in a vise and using a hammer and chisel to pry it away from the actuator hardware.

You’ve no doubt seen clocks made from old hard drives that were kept mostly intact. Many makers including [Jeremy] will extract the shiny platters to use as bases for clock faces and engrave the numbers, etch them, or glue them on. Those platters also make excellent chimes. Even if you just hang one platter off of a finger and tap it with a fingernail, it sounds really nice.

If simple chimes don’t really butter your muffin, there are all kinds of sonic projects for dead hard drives. How about making a microphone or speakers? Maybe an HDD MIDI controller or a synthesizer is more your speed. Speaking of synths, watch [Jeremy] take a hard drive apart to some sweet sounds after the break.

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High Energy Gardening Means Nuking Plants

We live in a world transformed by our ability to manipulate the nucleus of atoms. Nuclear power plants provide abundant energy without polluting the air, yet on the other hand thousands of nuclear warheads sit in multiple countries ready to annihilate everything, even if it’s not on purpose. There are an uncountable number of other ways that humanity’s dive into nuclear chemistry has impacted the lives of people across the world, from medical imaging equipment to smoke detectors and even, surprisingly, to some of the food that we eat.

After World War 2, there was a push to find peaceful uses for atomic energy. After all, dropping two nuclear weapons on a civilian population isn’t great PR and there’s still a debate on whether or not their use was justified. Either way, however, the search was on to find other uses for atomic energy besides bombs. While most scientists turned their attention to creating a viable nuclear power station (the first of which would only come online in 1954, almost ten years after the end of World War 2), a few scientists turned their attention to something much less obvious: plants.

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Power from Paper

Comedian Steven Wright used to say (in his monotone way):

“We lived in a house that ran on static electricity. If we wanted to cook something, we had to take a sweater off real quick. If we wanted to run a blender, we had to rub balloons on our head.”

Turns out, all you need to generate a little electricity is some paper, Teflon tape and a pencil. A team from EPFL, working with researchers at the University of Tokyo, presented just such a device at a MEMS conference. (And check out their video, below the break.)

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