Cheap DIY Microscope Sees Individual Atoms

This is not an artist’s rendering, nor a physics simulation. This device held together with hardware-store MDF and eyebolts and connected to a breadboard, is taking pictures of actual atomic structures using actual measurements. All via an 80¢ piezo buzzer? Madness.

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Gold atoms in a crystal.

This apparent wizardry is called a scanning tunneling microscope which takes advantage of quantum tunneling. The device brings a needle atomically close to the object to be measured (by hand), applying a small voltage (+-15V), and stopping when it starts to conduct. Depending on the distance between the tip and the target, the voltage varies and does so precisely enough to identify whether an atom is underneath or not, and by how much.

The “pictures” are not photographs like a camera might take from a standard optical microscope, however they are neither guesses nor averages. They are representations of real physical measurements of specific individual atoms as they exist on the infinitesimal area being probed. It “sees” by measuring small voltage changes. Another difference lies in the “scanning.” The probe examines atoms the way one would draw ASCII images – single pixels at a time until an entire atom was drawn. Note that the resolution – as shown in the pictures – is sub-atomic. Sizes of atoms are apparent as are the distances between them. In this they are closer related to the far more expensive Scanning Electron Microscope technology, but are 10-100x zoomier; resolving 0.00000000001m, or 0.00000000039″.

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Scan Head – Piezo cut into quadrants

One would presume that dealing with actual atoms requires precision machining vast orders of magnitude beyond the home hobbyist but, no. Any one of us could make this at home or in our hackerspaces, for nearly free. Apparently even sharpening a tip to a single atom is, as [Dan] says “not as hard to achieve as you might think!” You take some tungsten wire and pull on it as you cut so that it shatters diagonally. There are better ways he suggests, but that method is good enough.

The ordinary piezo buzzer that is key to the measurement is chopped into quadrants with an ordinary X-Acto knife by hand. Carefully, because it is fragile, but, nothing more to it than that. There are two better and common methods but they cost hundreds of dollars, not 80 cents. It should be carefully glued since soldering heat will damage it, but, [Dan] soldered his anyway because it was easier. Continue reading “Cheap DIY Microscope Sees Individual Atoms”

How Many Puffs Does it Take To Kill an E-Cigarette?

Most of us have probably heard the old Tootsie Pop slogan, “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?” [E-Smoker2014] had a similar question about his e-cigarettes. These devices are sometimes advertised with the number of puffs they are good for. [E-Smoker2014] had purchased an e-cigarette on a trip to Belgium that advertised 500 puffs. After a bit of use, he started to suspect that he wasn’t getting the advertised number of puffs in before the battery would die. Rather than just accept that the world may never know for sure, he decided to test it out himself.

There aren’t many details on this build, but you can tell what’s going on from the video below. [E-Smoke2014r] built a machine to artificially puff on an e-cigarette. The e-cigarette is hooked up to what appears to be vinyl tubing. This tubing then attaches to a T-splitter. One end of the splitter is hooked up to a DIY actuator valve that can open or close the port. The other end of the splitter is hooked up to more tubing, which in turn is attached to a plastic cylinder placed in a container of water.

To simulate breathing, the computer first opens the relief valve in the splitter. It then mechanically lowers the plastic container into the bowl of water, pushing out a bunch of air in the process. The valve closes, and the computer then raises the plastic container out of the water. This action creates suction that draws air in through the e-cigarette like a normal user would do with their lungs. The computer increases the puff count and then repeats the process, expelling any vapor out of the relief valve.

The results of the test indicated that [E-Smoker] could only get 59 puffs out of this particular e-cigarette before draining the battery. Not even close to the advertised 500 puffs. Maybe he should consider building his own e-cigarette vaporizer? Continue reading “How Many Puffs Does it Take To Kill an E-Cigarette?”

Hybrid 50cc Ultracapacitor Scooter

We’re all familiar with hybrid gas-electric cars these days, but how about a hybrid scooter that uses supercapacitors instead of batteries? Our hats are off to [Alex] from Labs Bell for the almost entirely-DIY conversion.

The hybrid idea is to drive the vehicle’s wheels with electric motors, but generate the electricity with a normal gasoline engine. This allows the hybrid to control the engine speed almost independently of the wheel motors’ demand for power, allowing the gas engine to run at its most efficient speed and charge up batteries with the extra energy. As an extra bonus, many hybrids also use regenerative braking to recoup some of the energy normally wasted as heat in your brake pads.

[Alex]’s hybrid scooter does all of the above and more. Since the stock vehicle is a 50cc scooter, any increase in acceleration is doubtless welcome. We’d love to see the scooter starting from stop with a full charge. Using supercapacitors as storage instead of batteries is a win for charging efficiency. In urban stop-and-go traffic, the natural habitat of the 50cc scooter, the regenerative braking should help further with gas consumption.

What’s most impressive to us is the completely DIY hybrid control unit that takes some simple inputs (wheel speed and throttle position) and controls regenerative braking, the gas engine’s throttle, etc. Since the hybrid control system is currently under development, there’s even a button to switch between different trial algorithms on the fly. Very cool!

Oh yeah, and [Alex] points out the fire extinguisher on-board. He had occasion to use it for his hybrid motorcycle V1. Safety first!

Use a Cheap PIN Diode as a Geiger Counter

After the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, radiation measurement became newly relevant for a lot of people. Geiger-Müller tubes, previously a curiosity, became simultaneously important and scarce.

Opengeiger.de (English-language version here) has complete instructions for making a Geiger counter without a Geiger-Müller tube. Instead, this counter uses a PIN photodiode and some carefully chosen operational amplifiers. The total cost of such a device is significantly cheaper than the alternative: under $1 for the diode and around $5 for the rest. And since the PIN photodiode in question is used in many other devices, it’s not a niche component like a Geiger tube is.

The secret sauce is in component selection and tuning. Opengeiger uses the BPW34 diode because it is relatively common and has a large surface area, but also because it has a very low capacitance when reverse-biased. The first-stage opamp choice is also fairly critical. Considering that an average gamma radiation event produces only around 10 nanoamps for about 50 microseconds, a lot of amplification (100,000x), low noise, and high bandwidth are a must.

If you want to get started with this project, you could first browse through the explanation (PDF) to get an overview of the project’s goals, read up on all the technical considerations (PDF) or just head straight for the DIY instructions for the “Stuttgarter Geigerle” (PDF, schematic is on the last page). All of the documentation is chock-full of relevant references and totally worth the read.

A 1920’s Doorbell is Upgraded with 2010’s Technology

When you move into an old house, you are bound to have some home repairs in your future. [Ben] discovered this after moving into his home, built in 1929. The house had a mail slot that was in pretty bad shape. The slot was rusted and stuck open, it was covered in old nasty caulk, and it had a built-in doorbell that was no longer functional. [Ben] took it upon himself to fix it up.

The first thing on the agenda was to fix the doorbell. After removing the old one, [Ben] was able to expose the original cloth-insulated wiring. He managed to trace the wires back to his basement and, to his surprise, they seemed to be functional. He replaced the old doorbell button with a new momentary button and then hooked up a DIY doorbell using an XBee radio. [Ben] already had an XBee base station for his Raspberry Pi, so he was wrote a script that could send a notification to his phone whenever the doorbell was pushed.

Unfortunately, the old wiring just didn’t hold up. The push button only worked sporadically. [Ben] ended up purchasing an off the shelf wireless doorbell. He didn’t want to have to stick the included ugly plastic button onto the front of his house though, so [Ben] had to figure out how to trigger the new doorbell using the nice metallic button. He used the macro lens on his iPhone to follow the traces on the PCB until he was able to locate the correct points to trigger the doorbell. Then it was just a matter of a quick soldering job and he had a functional doorbell.

Once the electronics upgrades were complete, he moved on to fixing up the look of the mail slot. He had to remove the rust using a wire brush and sandpaper. Then he gave it a few coats of paint. He replaced the original natural insulation with some spray foam, and removed all the old nasty caulk. The final product looks as good as new and now includes a functional wireless doorbell.

We’re big fans of salvaging old-school home hardware. Another example that comes to mind is this set of door chimes with modernized driver.

Tube Headphones Rock Out While Keeping the Family Peace

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It’s hard being a kid sometimes. [Young] likes his music, but his dad is an overnight trucker. With his dad sleeping during the day, [Young] has to keep the volume down to a reasonable level. He could have bought some commercial headphones, but he wanted something a bit more customized. Rather than give up on his tunes, he built a pair of headphones with an internal tube preamp amplifier. [German language link — Google translate doesn’t want to work with this one but Chrome’s translate feature works].

Two 1SH24B preamp tubes feed two LM386 amplifier chips, creating a hybrid amplifier. The 1SH24B tubes are designed to work on battery voltage, so a step up circuit wasn’t necessary. However, [Young] still needed to provide an 8 cell battery pack to run his amp. Speakers were a 3 way coaxial of [Young’s] own design. He built the headphone frame using candy tins and cups from commercial headphones. A final touch was a window so everyone can see all that vacuum state goodness.  Considering that [Young] is only 16, we’re looking for some great things from him in the future.

If you don’t want to strap the tubes to your skull there are other options. But you have to admit it makes for a cool look. Starbucks here we come.

[Thanks Patrick]

Lux: A 100% Open Source Camera

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[Kevin Kadooka] recently finished his open source camera. The Lux Camera is 100% open source. Lux uses no parts from other cameras – not even a lens! To date we’ve only seen this with achieved with pinhole cameras. [Kevin] isn’t new to camera hacking. He was the man behind the Duo camera, which had a successful Kickstarter campaign in February of 2013. Duo is a DIY camera, but it still required lenses from Mamiya-Sekor, and a shutter from Seiko. Lux is a different animal. It has a manual focus 65mm f/5.6 Single Element lens. The shutter is [Kevin’s] own solenoid based leaf shutter design. Just as in the original shutter, an Arduino controls shutter operation and timing.

The main camera body and many of its parts are 3D printed. [Kevin] got some very nice quality parts from Shapeways 3D printing service. We have to say that some of the assemblies look a bit complex for desktop printers. However since everything is open source, anyone willing to put the time in could adapt them for the average RepRap or Ultimaker. [Kevin] has posted detailed build photos, as well as some photos taken with the Lux on his flickr stream. The pictures have  a decidedly holga-esque look to them, due in part to the single element lens. Even with this limitation, we love the idea of having a brownie style camera built completely from scratch.