Putting Lightning In Acrylic

Some folks at the i3Detroit hackerspace had an opportunity come up that would allow them to capture lightning in acrylic. They created a few Lichtenberg figures thanks to the help of a plastic tubing manufacturer, some lead sheet and a bunch of 1/2″ thick acrylic.

Lichtenberg figures are the 3D electrical trees found in paperweights the world over. They’re created through electrical discharge through an insulator, with lightning being the most impressive Lichtenberg figure anyone has ever seen. These figures can be formed in smaller objet d’art, the only necessity being a huge quantity of electrons pumped into the insulator.

This was found at Mercury Plastics’ Neo-Beam facility, a 5MeV electron accelerator that’s usually used to deliver energy for molecular cross linking in PEX tubing to enhance chemical resistance. For one day, some of the folks at i3Detroit were able to take over the line, shuffling a thousand or so acrylic parts through the machine to create Lichtenberg figures.

When the acrylic goes through the electron accelerator, they’re loaded up with a charge trapped inside. A quick mechanical shock discharges the acrylic, creating beautiful tree-like figures embedded in the plastic. There are a lot of pictures of the finished figures in a gallery, but if you want to see something really cool, a lead-shielded GoPro was also run through the electron accelerator. You can check out that video below.

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Sleek Desk Lamp Changes Colors Based on Sun Position

[Connor] was working on a project for his college manufacturing class when he came up with the idea for this sleek desk lamp. As a college student, he’s not fond of having his papers glowing brightly in front of him at night. This lamp takes care of the problem by adjusting the color temperature based on the position of the sun. It also contains a capacitive touch sensor to adjust the brightness without the need for buttons with moving parts.

The base is made from two sheets of aluminum and a bar of aluminum. These were cut and milled to the final shape. [Connor] found a nice DC barrel jack from Jameco that fits nicely with this design. The head of the lamp was made from another piece of aluminum bar stock. All of the aluminum pieces are held together with brass screws.

A slot was milled out of the bottom of the head-piece to make room for an LED strip and a piece of 1/8″ acrylic. This piece of acrylic acts as a light diffuser.  Another piece of acrylic was cut and added to the bottom of the base of the lamp. This makes for a nice glowing outline around the bottom that gives it an almost futuristic look.

The capacitive touch sensor is a pretty simple circuit. [Connor] used the Arduino capacitive touch sensor library to make his life a bit easier. The electronic circuit really only requires a single resistor between two Arduino pins. One of the pins is also attached to the aluminum body of the lamp. Now simply touching the lamp body allows [Connor] to adjust the brightness of the lamp.

[Connor] ended up using an Electric Imp to track the sun. The Imp uses the wunderground API to connect to the weather site and track the sun’s location. In the earlier parts of the day, the LED colors are cooler and have more blues. In the evening when the sun is setting or has already set, the lights turn more red and warm. This is easier on the eyes when you are hunched over your desk studying for your next exam. The end result is not only functional, but also looks like something you might find at that fancy gadget store in your local shopping mall.

Fail of the Week: Transparent Circuit Design is Clearly a Challenge

[Frank Zhao] wanted to try his hand at making a transparent circuit board. His plan was to etch the paths with a laser cutter and fill in the troughs with conductive ink. The grooves are ~0.1mm deep x ~0.8mm wide.

He used nickel ink, which is slightly cheaper than silver ink. The ink was among the least of his problems, though. At a measured resistance of several hundred ohms per inch, it was already a deal breaker since his circuit can’t function with a voltage drop above 0.3V. To make matters worse, the valleys are rough due to the motion of the laser cutter and don’t play well with the push-to-dispense nature of the pen’s tip. This caused some overflow that he couldn’t deal with elegantly since the ink also happens to melt acrylic.

[Frank] is going to have another go at it with copper foil and wider tracks. Do you think he would have fared better with silver ink and a different delivery method, like a transfer pipette? How about deeper grooves?

2013-09-05-Hackaday-Fail-tips-tileFail of the Week is a Hackaday column which runs every Thursday. Help keep the fun rolling by writing about your past failures and sending us a link to the story — or sending in links to fail write ups you find in your Internet travels.

A Laser Cut Word Clock

DIY laser cut word clock.

What is a word clock? A word clock is a clock that displays the time typographically that is also an interactive piece of art. Rather than buy one for $1500, [Buckeyeguy89] decided to build one as a present for his older brother. A very nice present indeed!

There are many different things that come into play when designing a word clock. The front panel is made from a laser cut piece of birch using the service from Ponoko. Additionally, white translucent pieces of acrylic were needed to keep each word’s light from bleeding into the neighboring letters. The hardware uses two Arduinos to control the LEDs and a DS3231 RTC for keeping accurate time. The results are very impressive, but it would sure make assembly easier if a custom PCB was used in the final version. For a one-off project, this makes a great birthday present.

The craftsmanship of this word clock is great, making it well suited for any home. What projects have you built that involve more than just electronics? Sometimes, quality aesthetics make all the difference.

Hackaday Links: July 13, 2014


Don’t like sunglasses? Deal with it. They’re the pixeley, retro sunglasses from your favorite animated .GIFs, made real in laser cut acrylic. Points of interest include heat-bent frames made out of a single piece of acrylic.

Remember this really small FPGA board? The kickstarter is ending really soon and they’re upgrading it (for an additional $30) with a much better FPGA.

Sparkfun is now hosting the Internet of Things. They’re giving people a tiny bit of space to push data to, and you can also deploy your own server. That’s interesting, and you can expect us doing a full post on this soon.

Need waveforms? [Datanoise] is building a wavetable synthesizer, and he’s put all his waveforms online. Now if we could just get a look at the synth…

If you only have $20 to spend on a board, you’ll want to pick up at Teensy 3.1. [Karl] wrote some bare metal libraries for this awesome board, and while it’s not as extensive as the standard Arduino libs, it’s more than enough to get most projects off the ground. Included are UARTs, string manipulation tools, support for the periodic interval timers on the chip, and FAT and SD card support.

Koch Lamp is 3D Printed with a Twist

Koch Lamp

[repkid] didn’t set out to build a lamp, but that’s what he ended up with, and what a lamp he built. If the above-pictured shapes look familiar, it’s because you can’t visit Thingiverse without tripping over one of several designs, all based on a fractal better known as the Koch snowflake. Typically, however, these models are intended as vases, but [repkid] saw an opportunity to bring a couple of them together as a housing for his lighting fixture.

Tinkering with an old IKEA dioder wasn’t enough of a challenge, so [repkid] fired up his 3D printer and churned out three smaller Koch vases to serve as “bulbs” for the lamp. Inside, he affixed each LED strip to a laser-cut acrylic housing with clear tape. The three bulbs attach around a wooden base, which also holds a larger, central Koch print at its center. The base also contains a PICAXE 14M2 controller to run the dioder while collecting input from an attached wireless receiver. The final component is a custom control box—comprised of both 3D-printed and laser-cut parts—to provide a 3-dial remote. A simple spin communicates the red, green, and blue values through another PICAXE controller to the transmitter. Swing by his site for a detailed build log and an assortment of progress pictures.


A Transparent 7-Segment Display

Though [Connor] labels it as a work in progress, we’re pretty impressed with how polished his transparent 7-segment display looks. It’s also deceptively simple.

The build uses a stack of seven different acrylic panes, one in front of the other, each with a different segment engraved onto its face. The assembly of panes sits on a small mount which is placed over seven rows of LEDs, with 5 LEDs per row. [Connor] left an air gap between each of the seven individual acrylic panes to clearly distinguish which was lit and to match the separation of the LED rows. To display a number, he simply illuminates the appropriate LED rows, which scatter light across the engraved part without spilling over into another pane.

You can find a brief overview and some schematics on [Connor’s] website, and stick around for the video demonstration below. We’ve featured [Connor’s] work before; if you missed his LCD data transfer hack you should check it out!

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