Making aerogel at home

[Ben] outdid himself. He successfully made monoliths of silica aerogel in his garage. Aerogel, the light-weight solid that has been referred to as ‘hard air’ is really freaking expensive especially in non-granulated form.

The techniques behind producing aerogels have been on the Internet for a fairly long time. A few uncommon chemicals and a supercritical drying chamber are required for production, meaning it takes a lot of know-how to make hard air at home. Somehow, [Ben] got ahold of some tetramethoxysilane, the hard to come by ingredient and made a supercritical drying chamber out of pipe fittings and liquid Carbon Dioxide.

In the end, [Ben] was able to make a few small pieces of aerogel. The size of his pieces were constrained by his “mold” (actually a syringe) and the size of his drying chamber. It’s very possible [Ben] could build a larger supercritical drying chamber and make larger pieces of aerogel that would be sold commercially for hundreds of dollars.

Check out the very informative walkthrough of [Ben]’s process after the break. It’s 10 minutes long and makes for a great lunch break video.

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Anodizing and dyeing aluminum without battery acid

While many people have tried their hand at anodizing aluminum at home, there are plenty who would just as soon leave it up to the professionals due to the highly concentrated sulfuric acid required for the process. [Ken] started thinking about the process and wondered if there was a way to get comparable results using chemicals that are easier to obtain and dispose of.

Through some experimentation he found that sodium bisulfate (NaHSO4), which is a sodium salt of sulfuric acid, can easily be used in its place with great results. The chemical is typically advertised in hardware and pool stores as “Aqua Chem”, and can be had at a very reasonable price. When paired with the proper DC current along with a cathode, the sodium bisulfate easily anodizes an aluminum workpiece and renders it ready for coloring with RIT, readily available cloth dye.

We were impressed with the results, and when looking at [Ken’s] test pieces, it seems that the metal dyed with sodium bisulfate has a more uniform, less streaky coloring to it. It’s also worth mentioning that [Ken] has found it is fairly easy to etch the aluminum before anodizing using a solution of sodium hydroxide, which is great for individuals who prefer a more matte finish.

If this is something that interests you, be sure to swing by his site. He has a posted nice video overview of the process that may be of some help.

Chemical wood burning

Make: Projects has posted an interesting way to burn designs into wood. Instead of doing the traditional method of using a hot iron to hand draw or trace patterns on the wood, they show us how to use a chemical process to make things easier. They are using a solution of Ammonium Chloride, applied with a foam stamp, then heated. When it is heated it breaks down to ammonia gas and hydrochloric acid, burning the surface. The advantage here is that you can easily use a stamp to create patterns whereas doing it by hand might be difficult.  They do point out that improvements could be made, such as adding something to keep it from soaking into the wood and blurring the edges.

Making magnetite nanocrystals

Unlike many chemistry projects we post here, making magnetite nanocrystals doesn’t require anything that can’t be found in a local grocery store. All that is required is oil, vinegar, crystal drain opener, and rust. We don’t recognize the specific brand of drain cleaner that they are using, but we’re sure that you could find one with the same ingredients. Magnetite nanocrystals  are used to remove arsenic from water. If you are in the USA or most of Europe, that’s not a big concern, but it can’t hurt can it?

[via Make]

A Stirring Hack

Stirring Flask

[Oleg] of Circuits@Home and maker of the USB Isolation Board and the USB Host Shield has a new, two-part hack for his chemistry set. In Part 1 of  this hack, [Oleg] discusses the method he uses to make a stir bar spin and what types of stir bars work the best. Part 2 discusses the motor control code and circuit. Given the ample amount of capability leftover in the Arduino he used, we would like to see this stirrer paired with a heating element to have a complete hotplate/stirrer. What do you think you could do with or to improve this device?

Colored pyrotechnics

Regular submitter [Jared Bouck] from has sent us this cool project. He wanted to make a fireball cannon, but didn’t want to settle for plain old fireballs.Instead of using a common  propane system, he built an alcohol based one so he had a “blank slate” to start with. He then applied some copper chloride to get the desired greens and blues. With all of the fire displays we see, how come we don’t see more colored flames? Check out the overview video after the break.

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Ferric chloride etching chemistry


[ladyada] has republished an interesting snippet from the synthDIY mailing list. [David Dixon] discusses the actual chemistry behind ferric chloride based home circuit board etching. He concludes that ferric chloride is essentially a ‘one-shot’ oxidant. It can’t be regenerated and can be difficult to dispose of properly. The use of acidified copper chloride is a much better path and becomes more effective with each use, as long as you keep it aerated and top up the acidity from time to time. This etchant solution is actually the result of initially using hydrogen peroxide as an oxidant along with muriatic acid. You can see us using this solution in our etching how-to and while creating the board for our RGB lock. For more information on using hydrogen peroxide, check out [Adam Seychell]’s guide and this Instructable.

Aside: [ladyada] has added the receiver code to the Wattcher project page.