One Hacker’s Small Tabletop Photo Studio

We love good pictures. You know, being worth a thousand words and all. So, after our article on taking good reference photos, we were pleased to see a reader, [Steve], sharing his photography set-up.

Taking good technical photos is a whole separate art from other fields of photography like portraiture.  For example, [Steve] mentions that he uses “bullseye” composition, or, putting the thing right in the middle. The standard philosophy on this method is that it’s bad and you are bad. For technical photos, it’s perfect.

[Steve] also has some unique toys in his arsenal. Like a toy macro lens from a subscription chemistry kit. He also showed off his foldscope. Sadly, they appear to no longer be for sale, but we sometimes get by with a loupe held in front of the lens. He also uses things standard in our shop. Such as a gridded cutting mat as a backdrop and a cheap three dollar tripod with spring actuated jaws to hold his phone steady.

In the end, [Steve] mostly shows that a little thought goes a long way to producing a photo that doesn’t just show, but communicates an idea in a better way than just words can manage.

 

Machines That Build Other Machines

When the RepRap project was founded in 2005, it promised something spectacular: a machine that could build copies of itself. RepRaps were supposed to be somewhere between a grey goo and a device that could lift billions of people out of poverty by giving them self-sufficiency and the tools to make their lives better.

While the RepRap project was hugely successful in creating an open source ecosystem around 3D printers, a decade of development hasn’t produced a machine that can truly build itself. Either way, it’s usually easier and cheaper to buy a 3D printer than to build your own.

[castvee8]’s entry into the 2016 Hackaday Prize does just what the RepRap project promised ten years ago. It’s all about building machines with the ability to reproduce, creating an ecosystem of machines to build household goods. The best part? You can 3D print most of the machines. It’s the RepRap project, but for mills, lathes, microscopes, and routers. It’s an entire shop produced entirely in a 3D printer.

The idea of creating a machine shop from the most basic building materials has been around for a while. At the turn of the last century, concrete lathes and mills bootstrapped industrial economies. Decades later, [David J. Gingery] created a series of books on building a machine shop starting with a charcoal foundry. The idea of building a shop using scrap and the most minimal tools is very old, but this idea hasn’t been updated to the era where anyone can buy a 3D printer for a few hundred dollars.

So far, [castvee8] has a few homemade machine tools on the workbench, including a lathe, a tiny mill easily capable of fabricating a few circuit boards, and a little drill press. They’re all machines that can be used to make other useful items, and all allow anyone to create the devices they need.

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Building an Atomic Force Microscope on the Cheap!

LEGO2NANO, are building an open hardware AFM (Atomic Force Microscope).

AFMs are a kind of probe microscope. Unlike an optical microscope, a probe is used to “feel” the topology of a surface. An atomic force microscope uses a flexible cantilever with a nanometer scale tip on the end. As the tip scans across the surface it will be deflected by its interaction with the surface. A laser spot is usually reflected off the back of the cantilever, and captured by a photodiode array. The angle of the reflected beam, and therefore which photodiodes are excited lets you know how much the cantilever was deflected by the surface.

One of the challenges of building an AFM is developing an actuator that can move with nanoscale precision. We recently reported on [Dan Berard]s awesome capacitor actuator, and have previously reported on his STM build which uses a piezo buzzer. LEGO2NANO are experimenting with a number of different configurations, including using Piezo buzzers, but in a different configuration to [Dan]s system.

The LEGO2NANO project runs as a yearly summer school to encourage high school students to take part in the ambitious task of building an AFM for a few hundred dollars (commercial instruments cost about 100,000USD). While the project isn’t yet complete, whatever the outcome the students have clearly learned a lot, and gained an exciting insight into this cutting edge microscopy technique.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Online Bone Marrow Cytometry Aid

Simple blood tests can lead a doctor toward a diagnosis of blood cancers, like leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma, but to really see what’s going on, he or she needs to go to the source of the problem: the bone marrow. Examining maturing blood cells from the marrow with a microscope is an important step in staging the disease and developing a plan for treatment, but it’s a tedious and error-prone process that requires a doctor to classify and tally a dozen or so different cells based on their size, shape and features. Automated systems like flow cytometry and image analysis software can help, but in an austere environment, a doctor might not have access to these. Luckily, there’s now an on-line app to assist with bone marrow cytometry.

Thanks to [Eduardo Zola], a doctor can concentrate on classifying cells without looking up from the microscope, and without dictating to an assistant. Keys are assigned to the different cell morphologies, and a running total of each cell type is kept. With practice, the doctor should be able to master the keying for the various cells; we suspect the generation of physicians that grew up with the WASD keying common in PC-based gaming might have a significant advantage over the older docs when it comes to learning such an app.

[Eduardo]’s app seems like a simple way to improve on an important medical procedure, and an enabling technology where access to modern instrumentation is limited. To that end, one area for improvement might be a standalone app that can run on a laptop without internet access, or perhaps even a version that runs on a smart phone. But even as it is, it’s a great entry for the 2015 Hackaday Prize.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Microscope Camera For Zeroing CNC Machines

After what we’re sure is several dozen screw-ups or at the very least a lot of wasted hours, [Chris] has gotten around to building a very precise microscope camera mount for zeroing out his CNC machine.

If you need to mill a few bits out of a sheet of metal or plastic, it’s important to know exactly where you’re cutting. A CNC machine can take care of the relative positioning, but if you already have half your holes drilled, you also need absolute positioning. This means placing the work piece exactly where you want to cut, or failing that, zeroing the machine to a predefined point on the piece.

[Chris] is accomplishing this with a pen-shaped USB microscope. With a 3D printed mount and a few magnets, this camera can clip right on to the machine, and with the camera interface in Mach3, it’s pretty easy to zero out the mill to within a thousandth of an inch.

There’s a video demo of the camera in action below, but there’s a lot more CNC mods on [Chris]’ website. There’s custom 3D printed vacuum nozzles, and a lot of work on a small desktop Grizzly mill.

Continue reading “Microscope Camera For Zeroing CNC Machines”

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”

DIY Video Microscope Used For Soldering SMD Parts

Fortunately (or unfortunately), [ucDude] has had the opportunity to try out a high quality video microscope while soldering some small surface mount components. He loved it, the problem was he had a hard time going back to using just his eyes. He wanted a video microscope but the cost for a professional one could not be justified. The solution? Build one!

[ucDude] called on one of his photographer friends to help. After discussing the project they decided to use a webcam and a lens from an SLR camera. Testing with the webcam resulted in an image that could not be zoomed-in enough, plus having to connect it to an external computer proved to be a bulky solution. They next tried a Raspberry Pi, camera module and zoom monocular. It worked great! The entire assembly was then mounted to a camera boom stand making it easy for the camera to be positioned over the work area and out of the way of hands and soldering irons. The Raspberry Pi’s HDMI output is plugged straight into an HD monitor. The result is exactly what [ucDude] was looking for. Now he can quickly and confidently solder his surface mount circuit boards.