Laser Sequencer uses Arduino to Enable Super-Microscope!

[Philip]’s Laser control Arduino shield.

[Philip Nicovich] has been building laser sequencers over at the University of New South Wales. His platform is used to sequence laser excitation on his fluorescence microscopy systems. In [Philip]’s case, these systems are used for super-resolution microscopy, that is breaking the diffraction limit allowing the imaging of structures of only a few nanometers (1 millionth of a millimeter) in size.

Using an Arduino shield he designed in Eagle, [Philip] was able to build the system for less than half the cost of a commercial platform.

The control system is build around the simple Arduino shield shown to the right, which uses simple 74 series logic to send TTL control signals to the laser diodes used in his rig. The Arduino runs code which allows laser firing sequences to be programmed and executed.

[Philip] also provides scripts which show how the Arduino can be interfaced with the open source micro manager control software.


As well as the schematics [Philip] has provided STEP files and drawings for the enclosure and mounts used in the system and a detailed BOM.

More useful than all this perhaps is the comprehensive write-up he provides. This describes the motivation for decisions such as the use of aluminum over steel due to its ability to transfer heat more effectively, and not to use thermal paste due to out-gassing.

While I can almost hear the cries of “not a hack”, the growing use of open source platforms and tool in academia fills us with joy. Thanks for the write-up [Philip] we look forward to hearing more about your laser systems in the future!

Star Track: A Lesson in Positional Astronomy With Lasers

[gocivici] threatened us with a tutorial on positional astronomy when we started reading his tutorial on a Arduino Powered Star Pointer and he delivered. We’d pick him to help us take the One Ring to Mordor; we’d never get lost and his threat-delivery-rate makes him less likely to pull a Boromir.

As we mentioned he starts off with a really succinct and well written tutorial on celestial coordinates that antiquity would have killed to have. If we were writing a bit of code to do our own positional astronomy system, this is the tab we’d have open. Incidentally, that’s exactly what he encourages those who have followed the tutorial to do.

The star pointer itself is a high powered green laser pointer (battery powered), 3D printed parts, and an amalgam of fourteen dollars of Chinese tech cruft. The project uses two Arduino clones to process serial commands and manage two 28byj-48 stepper motors. The 2nd Arduino clone was purely to supplement the digital pins of the first; we paused a bit at that, but then we realized that import arduinos have gotten so cheap they probably are more affordable than an I2C breakout board or stepper driver these days. The body was designed with a mixture of Tinkercad and something we’d not heard of, OpenJsCAD.

Once it’s all assembled and tested the only thing left to do is go outside with your contraption. After making sure that you’ve followed all the local regulations for not pointing lasers at airplanes, point the laser at the north star. After that you can plug in any star coordinate and the laser will swing towards it and track its location in the sky. Pretty cool.

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How Lasers Actually Work

Lasers are optical amplifiers, optical oscillators, and in a way, the most sophisticated light source ever invented. Not only are lasers extremely useful, but they are also champions of magnitude: While different laser types cover the electromagnetic spectrum from radiation (<10 nm) over the visible spectrum to far infrared light (699 μm), their individual output band can be as narrow as a few µHz. Their high temporal and spatial coherence lets them cover hundreds of meters in a tight beam of lowest divergence as a perfectly sinusoidal, electromagnetic wave. Some lasers reach peak power outputs of several exawatts, while their beams can be focused down to the smallest spot sizes in the hundreds and even tens of nanometers. Laser is the acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission Of Radiation, which suggests that it makes use of a phenomenon called stimulated emission, but well, how exactly do they do that? It’s time to look the laser in the eye (Disclaimer: don’t!).

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Freezing Stuff With Fricken’ Lasers

For almost two decades there has been research that describes a method to freeze material with nothing but a laser. The techniques have only ever been able to work on single nano-crystals in a vacuum, making it less than functional — or practical. Until now, that is.

Researchers at the University of Washington have figured out how to cool a liquid indirectly using an infrared laser. It works by subjecting a special microscopic crystal to the laser. When the laser hits this crystal, the infrared light turns to the visible spectrum, becoming a reddish green light — which happens to be more energetic than infrared. This shift in energy levels is what causes a change in temperature. The energy (in the way of heat) is sucked from the fluid surrounding the crystal, and as such, causes a drop in the temperature of the liquid. Continue reading “Freezing Stuff With Fricken’ Lasers”

Self Built Interferometer Measures Nanometer Displacement

[jrcgarry] hacked together this awesome interferometer which is able to measure displacements in the nanometer range. Commercial interferometers are used in research labs to measure tiny displacements on the nanometer scale, and can cost tens of thousands of dollars. [jrcgarry] used beam splitters from BluRay drives, mirrors from ebay and a 5mw laser diode.

We’ve covered the use of interferometers before. But never an instrument built from scratch like this. Interferometers exploit the wave-like nature of a beam of light. The beam is split and sent down two separate paths, where the beams bounce off mirrors to return to the beam splitter to be recombined. Because of its wave light nature the beams will interfere with each other. And as the beams have traveled different distances they may be in or out of phase. Resulting in either constructive (brighter) or destructive (darker) interference.

Because the wavelength of light is on the order of 100s of nanometers, by observing the interference patterns you can monitor the displacement of the mirrors with respect to each other at nanometer resolution. [jrcgarry] doesn’t use the interferometer for any particular application in this tutorial but it’s a great demonstration of the technique!

Playing Space Invaders with Real Fire and Lasers

Making a Space Invaders game is up there on the list of most unconventional things you could do with a laser cutter. In watching the tiny little ships burst into flames, [Martin Raynsford’s] modification has got to be one of the more dangerous looking ones we’ve seen as well.

[Martin] always had the desire to make a tangible version of the classic game. Since his Whitetooth A1 laser cutter already contained the bulk of the moving hardware needed, not to mention an actual high powered laser to “pew pew” with, he decided it was the perfect starting point for such a project. The game is played looking down into the cutter since the laser of course fires in that direction, however a basic webcam is mounted to the laser assembly so that you can view the game on a computer screen at the proper perspective. An Arduino Mini is responsible for stepper control, allowing the player to jog back and forth and fire with a keyboard. [Martin] added an extra gear to the z-axis bed-leveler so that it could drive rows of paper invaders left and right across the bottom. Paperclips wedged into slots along a modified backboard hold each of the paper slips in place. This works ideally since they can be reloaded easily and won’t be maimed during use.

Due to the heat of the laser, landing a well positioned shot will likely nuke all of the nearby invaders as well, making for a theatrical inferno and easy win. Now to step up the difficulty level and figure out how to make them fire back…

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DIY Hot Wheels Drag Race Timer

[Apachexmd] wanted to do something fun for his three-year-old son’s birthday party. Knowing how cool race cars are, he opted to build his own Hot Wheels drag race timer. He didn’t take the easy way out either. He put both his electronics and 3D printing skills to the test with this project.

The system has two main components. First, there’s the starting gate. The cars all have to leave the gate at the same time for a fair race, so [Apachexmd] needed a way to make this electronically controlled. His solution was to use a servo connected to a hinge. The hinge has four machine screws, one for each car. When the servo is rotated in one direction, the hinge pushes the screws out through holes in the track. This keeps the cars from moving on the downward slope. When the start button is pressed, the screws are pulled back and the cars are free to let gravity take over.

The second component is the finish line. Underneath the track are four laser diodes. These shine upwards through holes drilled into the track. Four phototransistors are mounted up above. These act as sensors to detect when the laser beam is broken by a car. It works similarly to a laser trip wire alarm system. The sensors are aimed downwards and covered in black tape to block out extra light noise.

Also above the track are eight 7-segment displays; two for each car. The system is able to keep track of the order in which the cars cross the finish line. When the race ends, it displays which place each car came in above the corresponding track. The system also keeps track of the winning car’s time in seconds and displays this on the display as well.

The system runs on an Arduino and is built almost exclusively out of custom designed 3D printed components. Since all of the components are designed to fit perfectly, the end result is a very slick race timer. Maybe next [Apachexmd] can add in a radar gun to clock top speed. Check out the video below to see it in action. Continue reading “DIY Hot Wheels Drag Race Timer”