Hand-Cranked Cyclotron

Okay, not actually a cyclotron… but this ball cyclotron is a good model for what a cyclotron does and the concepts behind it feel kooky and magical. A pair of Ping Pong balls scream around a glass bowl thanks the repulsive forces of static electricity.

It’s no surprise that this comes from Rimstar, a source we’ve grown to equate with enthralling home lab experiments like the Ion Wind powered Star Trek Enterprise. Those following closely will know that most of [Steven Dufresne’s] experiments involve high voltage and this one is no different. The same Wimshurst Machine he used in the Tea Laser demo is brought in again for this one.

A glass bowl is used for its shape and properties as an insulator. A set of electrodes are added in the form of aluminum strips. These are given opposite charges using the Wimshurst machine. Ping Pong balls coated in conductive paint are light enough to be moved by the static fields, and a good crank gets them travelling in a very fast circuit around the bowl.

When you move a crank the thought of being connected to something with a chain pops into your mind. This feels very much the same, but there is no intuitive connection between the movement of the balls and your hand on the crank. Anyone need a prop for their Halloween party?

If you don’t want to buy or build a Wimshurst machine you can use a Van De Graaff generator. Can anyone suggest other HV sources that would work well here?

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Measuring The Lifespan Of Nixie Tubes


Nixie tubes have two things going for them: they’re awesome, and they’re out of production. If you’re building a clock – by far the most popular Nixie application, you’re probably wondering what the lifespan of these tubes are. Datasheets from the manufacturers sometimes claim a lifetime as low as 1000 hours, or a month and a half if you’re using a tube for a clock. Obviously some experimentation is in order to determine the true lifetime of these tubes.

Finding an empirical value for the lifetime of Nixies means setting up an experiment and waiting a very, very long time. Luckily, the folks over at SALTechips already have a year’s worth of data.

Their experimental setup consists of an IN-13 bargraph display driven with a constant current sink. The light given off by this Nixie goes to a precision photometer to log the visual output. Logging takes place once a week, and the experiment has been running for 57 weeks so far.

All the data from this experiment is available on the project page, along with a video stream of the time elapsed and current voltage. So far, there’s nothing to report yet, but we suppose that’s a good thing.

Hackit: Researchers wait 69-years to see tar move


This experiment was started at Trinity College Dublin way back in 1944. Its purpose is to prove that tar flows, and indeed it does let go of a drop about every ten years. The thing is that nobody has ever seen that happen, bringing up the “if a tree falls in the forest” scenario. The Nature article on this event even mentions another experiment whose last drop was missed because the camera monitoring it was offline. This time around they did get some footage of the (un)momentous event which you can see below.

So here’s the challenge for clever hackers: What’s the easiest rig you can think of that won’t just continuously film the experiment but can also ensure that you get the goods on tape when a drop does fall? We see all kinds of high-speed shutter triggers — here’s one of the latest. But we don’t remember seeing an extremely slow version of the same. Let us know your idea by leaving a comment.

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Only you can kick a child’s balls into space

We had a lot of fun with that title. Of course when you’re talking about launching a thousand ping pong balls into space there’s no end to the puns which can be made. But this is actually a fantastic initiative to get people of all ages excited about science and near-space experiments. [John Powell] offers school children the opportunity to send an experiment into space. He’s Kickstarting the next launch, which is scheduled to take place in September. This way each entrant can fly their project for free, then get the results and a certificate back once the weather-balloon-based hardware is recovered.

There is one size restriction for the program. Each experiment must fit inside of a ping pong ball. But you’ll be surprised what can be accomplished. [John] reports that the most simple, yet interesting project is to place a small marshmallow inside the ball. As it rises through the atmosphere it will grow to fill the entire ball, then be freeze-dried by the the extreme temperatures. Some are not so low-tech. There’s an image of a tiny PCB holding a DS1337 and some sensors. It’s an atmospheric data logger that will provide plenty of information to analyze upon its return.

[via Hacked Gadgets]

Hackers age 14-18 can compete to put their project into space

If you’re between the ages of 14 and 18, or have a child who is, here’s a chance to put a project into space. NASA is partnering with YouTube, Lenovo, and a few other entities for a contest that challenges participants to dream up low-gravity experiments. You can enter as an individual or in teams of up to three people, and may put forth up to three experiment ideas for judging. Getting in on the first round is as easy as recording and uploading a video. You’ll need to state a scientific question or principle you want to test, a hypothesis of what can be learned, and a method for testing it.

As with most of the projects we encounter, the seminal idea is always the toughest part. And since the folks here at Hackaday are too old to enter, we thought we’d propose throwing around some ideas in the comments to get the ball rolling (the contest FAQ says it’s okay to get help from others so we’re not ruining it for everyone). We’ll go first.

It looks like experiments can be Biology or Physics related, and can’t use hazardous chemicals, weapons, or anything sharp. We’d love to see some tests that measure how well electronic sensors work in the microgravity. For instance, can you use a gyroscope sensor reliably in micro-gravity? What about an electronic compass; does it always point toward earth? What about robotic propulsion? We’d love to see a minature ROV swimming through the air like a water-bourne vessel would on earth.

Your turn. Leave a comment to let us know what you’d do if you could enter. Oh, and we’ve also embedded the contest promo video after the break.

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Roll your own capacitors


Rolling your own electronics components can be fun, but can also help in explaining how certain items actually work. [Addie] from The Toymakers recently set off to figure out how capacitors work, by making her own.

She understood the general concept behind capacitors and how they are constructed, but she wanted to see how it was done first-hand. To construct her capacitor, she selected aluminum foil as her conductor, and saran wrap as the dielectric. She admits that her first attempt was a failure, but undaunted, she carried on. Friends suggested that her conductors were a bit too small to hold any reasonable charge, so she tried larger sheets of aluminum foil to no avail.

She kept at it and found success after using several feet of foil to construct her capacitor. She charged it with a handful of AA batteries and was excited to see her multimeter come to life when she touched the leads to the cap.

While you likely wouldn’t use a hand-made capacitor in your next build, it is a fun experiment to do with children interested in learning about electronics.

[via Adafruit blog]

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Third-person vehicle

Here is something we didn’t expect (NSFW). The machinima crew behind RedVsBlue, Rooster Teeth, actually did a hack!

The idea is simple enough, how could you experience driving a vehicle like in a video game – aka, third-person. With some steel bar, Canon 5D camera, and a 15inch monitor inside of a blacked out cab, they accomplished just that.

What surprised us the most, is the great difficulty and difference there is between the video game vehicle and the real life one. But all of us here at HAD know why; they need to replace the steering wheel with a joystick. While they’re at it they can make it wireless and remote-controlled. Finally a HUD would be easy enough to program (might we suggest processing). Oh dear lord, is the world ready for this!?