Strobe Light Slows Down Time

Until the 1960s, watches and clocks of all kinds kept track of time with mechanical devices. Springs, pendulums, gears, oils, and a whole host of other components had to work together to keep accurate time. The invention of the crystal oscillator changed all of that, making watches and clocks not only cheaper, but (in general) far more accurate. It’s not quite as easy to see them in action, however, unless you’re [noq2] and you have a set of strobe lights.

[noq2] used a Rigol DG4062 function generator and a Cree power LED as a high-frequency strobe light to “slow down” the crystal oscillators from two watches. The first one he filmed was an Accutron “tuning fork” movement and the second one is a generic 32,768 Hz quartz resonator which is used in a large amount of watches. After removing the casings and powering the resonators up, [noq2] tuned in his strobe light setup to be able to film the vibrations of the oscillators.

It’s pretty interesting to see this in action. Usually a timekeeping element like this, whether in a watch or a RTC, is a “black box” of sorts that is easily taken for granted. Especially since these devices revolutionized the watchmaking industry (and a few other industries as well), it’s well worthwhile to take a look inside and see how they work. They’re used in more than just watches, too. Want to go down the rabbit hole on this topic? Check out the History of Oscillators. Continue reading “Strobe Light Slows Down Time”

Crystal Radio: It’s a Match!

A crystal radio is often a kid’s first introduction to building something electronic. [Billy Cheung] is a crystal radio builder who wants to “make crystal radios as easy to use as regular radios.” He’s built many sets, but his latest is one that not only fits in a matchbox, but uses the matchbox as a variable tuning inductor.

There’s no oatmeal box in this design and just a few components. The matchbox contains some ferrite rods and two different windings. By moving the inner part of the matchbox, you can tune different stations. Although the design calls for two fixed capacitors [Billy] found he had enough self resonance (presumably from stray capacitance) that omitting them didn’t hurt his reception of strong signals.

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Everything You Wanted to Know About Oscillators

Ever wonder how a crystal oscillator works? How does that little metal can with a sliver of quartz start vibrating to produce a clock signal for just about everything we use, while doing it in the accuracy range in the parts per million and cost practically nothing?

Well [Craig] decided its about time for an in depth tutorial  that covers everything you need to know to understand, design, and construct your very own. Wrapped up in a 41 minute video, [Craig]  covers the absolute basic theories and designs, math, datasheet explanation of crystals, and even a practical example of a Pierce crystal oscillator, suitable for use in a HF transceiver. Now you can make your own for your own application no matter if you’re just trying to save a pin on your favorite micro, or making a radio transceiver.

With this wealth of knowledge, whether you are learning for the first time, or just need a refresher, you should join us after the break, kick back and check out this highly informative video.

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Retrotechtacular: Crystals Go to War

More than one of our readers suggested we highlight this beautifully-shot process documentary about the laborious and precise manufacturing of piezoelectric quartz crystals in the early 1940s. Just a few years later, Bell Labs would perfect a method of growing synthetic crystals, sending droves of brave men and daintily-handed women from the Reeves Sound Laboratories to the unemployment line.

Early radio equipment relied upon tuned or L-C circuits for clocking. These were prone to drift by a few kHz, which prompted the use of crystal oscillators for stable frequencies in the 1920s. The lives of our armed forces and those of our WWII allies depended on reliable communication equipment, so the crystal oscillators they used were top shelf, produced by hand from Brazilian crust.

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Digital “Crystal” Breathes New Life into Old Radio

[Bill Meara] of the Soldersmoke Podcast has a nice old Drake 2B radio, and wanted to use it for the 12 meter amateur band. These old radios normally make switching tuning bands easy — you just swap out one frequency crystal for another and you’re set.

Only [Bill] didn’t have the 21 MHz crystal that he needed. No problem, because he had a junk crystal, a hacksaw, and a modern direct-digital synthesis (DDS) chip sitting around. So he takes the donor crystal, cuts it open, and solders the two wires directly from the DDS to the crystal’s pins. Now he’s got a plug-in replacement digital oscillator that doesn’t require modifying the nice old Drake receiver at all. A sweet little trick.

The video’s a little bit long, but the money shot comes in around 5:00.

Now, one might worry about simply plugging a powered circuit (the DDS) in place of a passive element (the crystal), but it seems to work and the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. We wonder how far this digitally-controlled-analog-receiver idea could be extended.

The Cheapest Crystal Oven


The crystals you’ll find attached to microcontrollers or RTCs are usually accurate to 100 parts per million at most, but that still means if you’re using one of these crystals as a clock’s time base, you could lose or gain a second per day. For more accuracy without an atomic clock, a good solution is an oven controlled crystal oscillator – basically, a temperature controlled crystal. It’s not hard to build one, and as [Roman] demonstrates, can be built with a transistor and a few resistors.

The heating element for this OCXO are just a few resistors placed right on the can of a crystal. A thermistor senses the heat, and with more negative feedback than the Hackaday comments section, takes care of regulating the crystal’s temperature. A trimpot is used for calibrating the temperature, but once everything is working that can be replaced with a fixed resistor.

This deadbugged circuitry is then potted in five minute epoxy. That’s a bit unconventional as far as thermal management goes, but the results speak for themselves: [Roman] can get a clock with this circuit accurate to a few seconds per year.

Piezoelectric Crystal Speaker for Clock Radio Is Alarmingly Easy to Make

cockadoodledooLet’s face it: most of us have trouble getting out of bed. Many times it’s because the alarm isn’t loud enough to rouse us from our viking dreams. [RimstarOrg]’s homeowner’s association won’t let him keep a rooster in the backyard, so he fashioned a piezoelectric crystal speaker to pump up the volume.

[RimstarOrg]’s speaker uses a Rochelle salt crystal strapped to a bean can diaphragm. In his demonstration, he begins by connecting an old clock radio directly to the crystal. This isn’t very loud at all, so he adds a doorbell transformer in reverse. This is louder, but it still won’t get [RimstarOrg] out of bed.

Enter the microwave oven transformer. Now it’s sufficiently loud, though it’s no fire bell alarm. He also demonstrates the speaker using a piezo igniter from one of those long barbecue lighters and a crystal radio earpiece. As always, the video is after the jump. [RimstarOrg] has a lot of relevant linkage in the summary so you can learn how to grow your own Rochelle crystals.

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