Diamond Batteries That Last For Millennia

Like many industrialized countries, in the period after the Second World War the United Kingdom made significant investments in the field of nuclear reactors. British taxpayers paid for reactors for research, the military, and for nuclear power.

Many decades later that early crop of reactors has now largely been decommissioned. Power too cheap to meter turned into multi-billion pound bills for safely coping with the challenges posed by many different types of radioactive waste generated by the dismantling of a nuclear reactor, and as the nuclear industry has made that journey it in turn has spawned a host of research projects based on the products of the decommissioning work.

One such project has been presented by a team at Bristol University; their work is on the property of diamonds in generating a small electrical current when exposed to radioactive emissions. Unfortunately their press release and video does not explain the mechanism involved and our Google-fu has failed to deliver, but if we were to hazard a guess we’d ask them questions about whether the radioactivity changes the work function required to release electrons from the diamond, allowing the electricity to be harvested through a contact potential difference. Perhaps our physicist readers can enlighten us in the comments.

So far their prototype uses a nickel-63 source, but they hope to instead take carbon-14 from the huge number of stockpiled graphite blocks from old reactors, and use it to create radioactive diamonds that require no external source. Since the output of the resulting cells will be in proportion to their radioactivity their life will be in the same order of their radioactive half-life. 5730 years for half-capacity in the case of carbon-14.

Of course, it is likely that the yield of electricity will not be high, with tiny voltages and currents this may not represent a free energy miracle. But it will be of considerable interest to the designers of ultra-low-maintenance long-life electronics for science, the space industry, and medical implants.

We’ve put their video below the break. It’s a straightforward explanation of the project, though sadly since it’s aimed at the general public it’s a little short on some of the technical details. Still, it’s one to watch.

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Saving a bricked phone with a pencil lead

[stompyonos] bricked his Samsung Captivate. Not wanting to be without a phone for a while, he researched a fix online and found shorting a pair of pins on the USB port would put the phone into download mode, saving his phone. The only problem for this plan is [stompy] didn’t have any resistors on hand. Instead, he came up with a wonderful MacGyverism using a piece of paper, a bit of graphite, and a pair of paper clips.

The process of unbricking a Captivate requires a 300 or 330 kΩ resistor across pins 4 and 5 of the mini USB port. This can be done with a few resistors, but [stompy] only had a multimeter lying around. After scribbling a good bit of pencil lead on a piece of paper, he attached two paper clips to make a variable resistor, dialed it in to about 300 kΩ, and cut up an old Nokia charger for its USB plug.

Not bad for a very easy fix that didn’t cost [stompyonos] a dime, and certainly better than a $500 paperweight.

Paper touchpad

If you don’t mind getting your fingers a little dirty you can replace your mouse with a piece of paper. [Dr. West] made this touchpad himself, which measures signals at the corners of the paper using four voltage dividers. The paper has been completely covered with graphite from a pencil (which we see in hacks from time to time), making it conductive. The user wears an anti-static strap that grounds their hand, allowing an Arduino to calculate contact points on two axes when a finger completes the circuit. See this controlling a cursor in the video after the break.

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Better resistors from a pencil

Many of us here in the office (myself included) can’t tell the difference, but the audiophiles out there who want the best sound from their resistors should check out [Troel’s] write-up for making your own non-inductive graphite resistors. Graphite resistors have the traits for being non-inductive, have a negative temperature coefficient, and supposedly sound better. We liked the detail of his tutorial and how he gives many examples for making your own graphite resistor.

[Thanks Maxime]

Making a cold heat soldering iron

cold_heat

Cold Heat soldering irons are pretty cool. They heat up in seconds and cool down just as quickly. [photozz] shows us how we can make one from stuff we probably have sitting around right now. Cold Heat soldering irons work off of resistance, the tip material heats very quickly when electricity is passed through the two halves. Upon assessing what he had lying around, [photozz] realized that graphite would work much the same way.  He modified a regular soldering iron with a new two piece graphite tip, and powered it with an old pc power supply. The end result is quite nice, though it still needs some kind of temperature control.  You may recall seeing other electrical uses for graphite, such as making quick and dirty light.