Stacking Voltage References To High Voltage Extremes

As children, we all probably had our ideal career paths. As an adult do you still harbor a secret desire to be an astronaut, or to drive a railroad train? Or have holders of other jobs become the people you envy?

As a Hackaday writer it’s probably not too controversial to admit a sneaking envy for the writers of semiconductor application notes. True, often their work consists of dry demonstrations of conventional uses for the products in question, but every once in a while they produce something off the wall and outside the device’s intended use, so out of the ordinary that you envy them their access for experimentation to the resources of a large semiconductor company.

Take Texas Instruments’ Application Report SBAA203, from May 2013. “Stacking the REF50xx for High-Voltage References” (PDF). A laboratory specialising in accurate measurement of high voltages had the problem that the stacks of Zener or avalanche diodes they were using as voltage references lacked both precision and stability, so investigated the properties of the REF5010 10V precision voltage reference.

You'll never be satisfied with a mere Zener diode again.
You’ll never be satisfied with a mere Zener diode again.

They found that by ignoring the device’s data sheet and directly connecting its output pin to its power pin, the REF5010 became equivalent to an ideal Zener diode. In this mode multiple references could be stacked in the same way as a real Zener diode, and very stable and high-precision voltage references could be created with very high voltages. They made a PCB with ten stacked REF5010s for a 100V reference, and then stacked ten of them for a 1000V reference. Leaving it for 24 hours to settle, they achieved a precision of +/- 2.5ppm, and after 3.5 months their average reading for the ten 1000V references they built was 1000.022V.

The 1000V reference would be impressive enough, but they weren’t finished. They built a series of boards holding 500 REF5010s for a 5KV reference, and stacked 20 of them to make a 100KV reference. These boards were mounted in a tower looking not unlike the Tesla coils we sometimes feature here. They note that it probably hits the record of simultaneous use of TI parts in a single device.

This may well be the first extremely high voltage precision reference to feature here at Hackaday, but we’ve certainly had our share of HV articles. Earlier this year we had a trio from [Steven Dufresne]: A conucopia of high voltage sources looking at ways to make your EHT, High voltage please, but don’t forget the current looking at selecting the right HV power supply for an application, and Wrangling high voltage looking at construction techniques.

Thanks [Nathan] for the tip.

Catching Lightning With High Voltages And A Kite

Flying a kite on a stormy day is not the wisest thing to do, except, of course, you’re intentionally trying to catch a lightning bolt. The guys from [kreosan] replicated the famous experiment, with which Benjamin Franklin once set out to prove the electrical nature of lightning.

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Mini Plasma Cutter

What do you get when you combine an arc cigarette lighter and some scrap glass and metal? [NightHawkInLight] created a simple plasma cutter project along with some hot glue and a few simple tools.

If you aren’t a smoker, an arc lighter uses a high voltage spark to light the cigarette. He essentially cannibalizes it for use as a power supply. Any similar high-voltage power supply should work just as well. He also uses the same cigarette lighter power supply for an arc pen, that we covered earlier.

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High-Voltage Fractals

Int 1777, Georg Lichtenberg found that discharging high voltage on an insulating surface covered with a powder, a fractal-like image appears, sometimes known as a lightning tree. Incidentally, this is a crude form of xerography, the principle that lets copiers and laser printers operate.

[PaulGetson] had a high voltage power source from his Jacob’s ladder experiments and decide to see if he could create Lichtenberg figures. Turns out, he could.

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Really Easy Jacob’s Ladder

There was a time when making a high voltage project like a Jacob’s ladder took time to build or scrounge some kind of high voltage circuit. The neon sign transformer, Marx generator, or voltage multiplier was the hard part of the project. But nowadays you can get cheap high voltage modules that are quite inexpensive. [PaulGetson] picked up one for under $20 and turned it into a quick and easy Jacob’s ladder.

Honestly, once you have high voltage, making a Jacob’s ladder is pretty simple. [Paul] used a cheap plastic box, some coat hanger wire, and some stainless steel bolts.

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Bare-bones Musical Tesla Coil is Tiny and Tinny

We’ve seen musical Tesla coils aplenty on these pages before, and we’ll be the first to point out that [Kedar Nimbalkar]’s musical high-voltage rig doesn’t quite qualify as a Tesla coil. But it’s dirt cheap, and might make a pretty cool rainy-afternoon-with-the-kids project.

Chances are good you have the parts needed for this build lying around the house. All that’s needed is an audio power amplifier and a high-voltage source. [Kedar] used a Class D amp board and a 3V to 7kV high-voltage module sourced from eBay for a couple of bucks; if you really want to go cheap, tear down that defunct electronic fly swatter gathering dust on top of your fridge and harvest the high-voltage module inside. The output of the amp feeds the high-voltage module, the HV leads are placed close together to get an arc, and the glorious high-fidelity sound will wash over you. Or not – sounds pretty awful to us. Still, it looks like a fast, fun build.

If this project gets you in the mood to go the full Tesla, check out this coil big enough to produce 12-foot arcs, or even this musical Tesla hat.

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Expanding Horizons With The Ion Propelled Lifter

Like many people, going through university followed an intense career building period was a dry spell in terms of making things. Of course things settled down and I finally broke that dry spell to work on what I called “non-conventional propulsion”.

I wanted to stay away from the term “anti-gravity” because I was enough of a science nut to know that such a thing was dubious. But I also suspected that there might be science principles yet to be discovered. I was willing to give it a try anyway, and did for a few years. It was also my introduction to the world of high voltage… DC. Everything came out null though, meaning that any effects could be accounted for by some form of ionization or Coulomb force. At no time did I get anything to actually fly, though there was a lot of spinning things on rotors or weight changes on scales and balances due to ion propulsion.

So when a video appeared in 2001 from a small company called Transdimensional Technologies of a triangle shaped, aluminum foil and wire thing called a lifter that actually propelled itself off the table, I immediately had to make one. I’d had enough background by then to be confident that it was flying using ion propulsion. And in fact, given my background I was able to put an enhancement in my first version that others came up with only later.

For those who’ve never seen a lifter, it’s extremely simple. Think of it as a very leaky capacitor. One electrode is an aluminum foil skirt, in the shape of a triangle. Spaced apart from that around an inch or so away, usually using 1/6″ balsa wood sticks, is a very thin bare wire (think 30AWG) also shaped as a triangle. High voltage is applied between the foil skirt and the wire. The result is that a downward jet of air is created around and through the middle of the triangle and the lifter flies up off the table. But that is just the barest explanation of how it works. We must go deeper!

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