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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Retrotechtacular: Gone Fission

This week’s film begins as abruptly as the Atomic Age itself, though it wasn’t produced by General Electric until 1952. No time is wasted in getting to the point of the thing, which is to explain the frightening force of nuclear physics clearly and simply through friendly animations.

[Dr. Atom] from the Bohr Modeling Agency describes what’s going on in his head—the elementary physics of protons, neutrons, and electrons. He explains that atoms can be categorized into families, with uranium weighing in as the heaviest element at the time. While most atoms are stable, some, like radium, are radioactive. This evidently means it stays up all night doing the Charleston and throwing off neutrons and protons in the process of jumping between atomic families. [Dr. Atom] calls this behavior natural transmutation.

Artificial transmutation became a thing in the 1930s after scientists converted nitrogen into oxygen. After a couple of celebratory beers, they decided to fire a neutron at a uranium nucleus just to see what happened. The result is known as nuclear fission. This experiment revealed more about the binding force present in nuclei and the chain reaction of atomic explosions that takes place. It seemed only natural to weaponize this technology. But under the right conditions, a reactor pile made from graphite blocks interspersed with U-235 and -238 rods is a powerful and effective source of energy. Furthermore, radioactive isotopes have advanced the fields of agriculture, industry, medicine, and biochemistry.

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Make your own Atomic clock

We see plenty of clock projects come through, but usually it is their visual or mechanical design that stands out. The DCF-77 LED PIC clock is fun because it is synchronized with the Atomic clock in Braunschweig Germany. The clock picks up the radio signal at 77.5 KHz known as DCF77, and that’s where it got its name.

The circuit looks surprisingly simple and usually costs less than $30 to build, depending on how you piece it together. You can download the schematics and code from the site, but you may have to do a little research about how to catch the signal from your location. The person who wrote this was located in Europe.

[found via HackedGadgets]

Master clock system uses all logic, no microcontrollers

What you see above is a master clock. It is the center of a system that can run an unlimited number of slave clocks, keeping them on-time thanks to its ability to synchronize with an atomic clock. [Brett Oliver] put together the project back in 2005 using digital logic chips, and no programmable microcontrollers. This includes everything from the binary decoders that drive the 7-segment displays, to the radio transceiver board that gathers the atomic clock data, to the various dividers that output 1 second, 2 second, 30 second, 1 minute, 1 hour, and 24 hour signal pulses. It’s  a well document and fascinating read if you’re interested in digital logic clocks.

Open Source STM

We hope you paid attention in advanced theoretical and quantum physics classes, or making your own Open Source Scanning-Tunneling Microscope might be a bit of a doozy. We’re not even going to try to begin to explain the device (honestly we slept through that course) beyond clarifying it is used for examining the molecular and atomic structure of surfaces; but for those still interested there is a nice breakdown of how Scanning Tunneling Microscopy works.

[Thanks Rich]

Scavenging a WWVB module from an RC clock

[Chris Kuethe] shows how to scavenge what could be a pricey WWVB module from a radio controlled clock. WWVB is a special radio station in Colorado that transmits an atomic-clock-derived signal to RC clocks. The clock model he uses, the Atomix 13131, goes for less than twenty bucks. He also shares the link to another tear down of a Sony branded radio controlled clock for similar purposes. So if you’re looking for a cheap way to obtain a WWVB module, the scavenging method could be the thrifty solution you seek.

(Disclaimer: A sticker for an event I organize is in the background of the photos, it’s not meant to be there as product placement.)

The world’s spookiest weapons

As purveyors of a fine hacks, we often get pitched on what are generally considered very bad ideas. Luckily, most of these ideas die on the drawing board due to a lack of time and energy or maybe having a shred of moral accountability. There’s nothing that government funding can’t fix though. Popular Science has put together a gallery of The World’s Spookiest Weapons. It’s a who’s who of real and speculative engineering that could lead to our eventual destruction. Opening with the atomic bomb, it moves quickly into more bizarre territory, everything from heat rays, to rail guns, to gassing people with elephant tranquilizers. Our personal favorite is The Rods from God. Imagine getting smote by a precisely targeted metal power pole dropped from space that has accelerated to 36,000 feet per second thanks solely to gravity. What a wondrous world we live in.

[via Acidus]