Measuring Tiny Masses Acoustically

How do you measure the mass of something really, really tiny? Like fish-embryo tiny. There aren’t many scales with the sensitivity and the resolution to make meaningful measurements in the nanogram range, so you’ve got to turn to other methods, like measuring changes in the resonant frequency of a glass tube. And that turns out to be cheap and easy for the home gamer to reproduce.

In a recent scholarly paper, [William Grover] et al from the University of California Riverside outline the surprisingly simple and clever method of weighing zebrafish embryos, an important model organism used in all sorts of developmental biology and environmental research. [Grover]’s method is a scaled-up version of a suspended microchannel resonator (SMR), a microelectromechanical device that can measure the mass of single cells or even weigh a virus particle. Rather than etch the resonator out of silicon, a U-shaped glass tube is vibrated by a piezoelectric speaker and kept at its resonant frequency by feedback from a cheap photointerrupter. When an embryo is pumped into the tube, the slight change in mass alters the resonant frequency of the system, which is easily detected by the photointerrupter. The technique can even be leveraged to measure volume and density of the embryos, and all for about $12 in parts.

In the lab, [Grover]’s team uses a data acquisition card and LabVIEW to run the resonant loop, but there’s no reason a DIY version of this couldn’t use an Arduino. In fact, tipster [Douglas Miller] expects someone out there will try this, and would appreciate hearing the details. You can ping him on his page.

Repairing Crystal Earpieces

If you make crystal radios, you’ve probably got a few crystal earpieces. The name similarity is a bit coincidental. The crystal in a crystal radio was a rectifier (most often, these days, a germanium diode, which is, a type of crystal). The crystal in a crystal earpiece is a piezoelectric sound transducer.

Back in the 1960s, these were fairly common in cheap transistor radios and hearing aids. Their sound fidelity isn’t very good, but they are very sensitive and have a fairly high impedance, and that’s why they are good for crystal radios.

[Steve1001] had a few of these inexpensive earpieces that either didn’t work or had low sound output. He found the root cause was usually a simple problem and shares how to fix them without much trouble.

Continue reading “Repairing Crystal Earpieces”

3D Print Your E-Drum Pads

The concept behind DIY electronic drum kits is fairly simple — small piezoelectric elements are used to generate a voltage when the drumpads are struck. That’s easy enough, but the mechanical design can be a difficult problem to approach. To solve that, [ryo.kosaka.10] decided to design an E-drum pad made with paper & 3D printed parts.

As far as E-drum triggers go, it follows the basic rules — a piezo element used as a trigger with some foam used for damping. For the striking surface, a Tama-brand mesh drum head is used. Being an off-the-shelf drum head, it has a good feel and playability. But the shell is where the creativity really shines through. While the top and bottom parts are 3D printed in the usual way, the main shell of the drum is made with several layers of thick paper laminated together with glue. This creates a surprisingly strong, sturdy shell and is also much faster and less wasteful than waiting for a similar part to 3D print.

To round out the guide, instructions are given on how to wire the piezo triggers up for either a regular E-drum sound module or an Arduino. It’s a nice touch, as those inexperienced with E-drums may not be entirely familiar with how they work – this way, anyone can give the project a try.

Keen for something bigger? Back in 2014 we saw this awesome 5-piece e-drum kit built out of buckets.

Hacklet 103 – Piezo Projects

The piezoelectric effect is simple in its rules: Apply mechanical stress to a material and you generate an electric charge. The inverse is also true: Apply a voltage to a material, and it changes shape. This doesn’t work for everything, though. Only certain materials like crystals, some ceramics, and bone have piezoelectric properties. The piezoelectric effect is used quite a bit in electronics, so it’s no surprise that plenty of hacker projects explore this physical phenomena. This week’s Hacklet is all about some of the best projects utilizing the piezoelectric effect on!

strumWe start with [miro2424] and StrumPad. Strumpad lets you play a MIDI instrument by strumming, just like a guitar. A music keyboard acts as the guitar fretboard here – keys can be pressed to choose notes, but no sound is generated. When the strumpad is strummed, six copper strips act as capacitive sensors. Touching the strips determines which notes will be played. A piezo disc hiding below the circuit board detects how hard the notes have been strummed or tapped. The ATmega328 running the strumpad then passes the velocity and note-on MIDI messages on to a synth.

stmNext up is [Dan Berard] with Scanning Tunneling Microscope. Inspired by a project from [John Alexander], [Dan] created his own Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM). The key to an instrument like this is precise movement. [Dan] achieves that by using a normal piezo disk. These disks are used as speakers and buzzers in everything from smoke detectors to greeting cards, so they’re common and cheap. [Dan] cut his piezo disk electrode into quadrants. Carefully controlling the voltage applied to the quadrants allows [Dan] to move his STM tip in X, Y, and Z. Incredibly, this microscope is able to create images at the atomic scale.

touchboard[Thatcher Chamberlin] is next with Low-Cost Touchscreen Anywhere. [Thatcher] used a trio of Piezo disks to make any flat surface touch sensitive. The three sensors are placed at 3 corners of a rectangle. Touches with the rectangle will create vibrations in the surface that are transmitted to the piezo sensors. By measuring the vibration time of arrival, it should be possible to determine where the surface was touched. This kind of measurement requires a decent processor, so [Thatcher] is using the ARM Cortex-M0 in NXP’s LPC1114FN28. Initial tests were promising, but we haven’t heard much from [Thatcher] on this project. If you see him online, tell him to hurry up! We’re hoping to turn our parking lot into a giant electronic chess board!

contFinally, we have [Jose Ignacio Romero] with Low Power Continuity Tester. [Jose] used a Piezo element in a slightly more mundane way – as a buzzer. Who needs a whole multimeter when you’re just trying to check continuity on a few circuits? This continuity tester uses a PIC12LF1571 processor to find open and short circuits. The 5 10 bit ADC in the PIC is plenty of resolution for this sort of tester. In fact, [Jose] even included a diode test, which emits a short beep if the leads are placed across a working diode. The PIC processor uses so little power that this tester should run for around 800 hours on a CR2032 watch battery.


If you want to see more piezo projects check out our brand new piezo projects list! If I missed your project, don’t get buzzed! Drop me a message on, and I’ll add it to the list. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!

Harvard’s Microrobotic Lab Sinks RoboBees and Claims it was on Purpose

What do you call tiny flying robots that undoubtedly emit a buzzing noise as they pass by? Mosquitoes are universally hated, as are wasps, so the logical name is RoboBees.

The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University has been cooking up these extremely impressive tiny robots in their Microrobotics lab. The swarms use piezoelectric actuators to produce the mechanical force to drive the wings, which can be independently controlled.This isn’t the first time we’ve looked in on the Robobees, but the most recent news revealed the ability to swim, and dive (term used generously) into water.

This may not sound like much, but previously the robots lacked the ability to break the surface tension of water. To sink, the wings need a coating of surfactant. Once submerged, the bots lack the ability to transition back from water to air. But we won’t be surprised to see that ability added as a feature while the scope of the project continues to creep. So yes, you can jump into water to escape bees but not to escape Robobees.

Diving isn’t the only wonder to behold. The ‘head’ of the RoboBee is utterly fascinating. It’s constructed by folding the PCB into a pyramid like structure, 4 sides of the head include a photo-transistor covered by a diffused lens which the bot uses for self positioning by sensing changes between the bright light of the sky and absence thereof below the horizon. This concept is taken directly from biological self-righting systems found on the head of most insects, however Harvard’s version has one more sensor than the stock 3 seen on insects. Take that, nature!

Continue reading “Harvard’s Microrobotic Lab Sinks RoboBees and Claims it was on Purpose”

Measuring Heart Rate With A Piezo

Look around for heart rate sensors that interface easily to microcontrollers, and you’ll come up with a few projects that use LEDs and other microcontrollers to do the dirty work of filtering out pulses in a wash of light.

[Thomas] was working on a project that detects if water is flowing through a pipe with a few piezoelectric sensors. Out of curiosity, he taped the sensor to his finger, and to everyone’s surprise, the values his microcontroller were spitting out were an extremely noise-free version of his heart rate.

The piezo in question is a standard, off the shelf module, and adding this to a microcontroller is as easy as putting the piezo on an analog pin. From there, it’s just averaging measurements and extracting a heartbeat from the data.

It’s a much simpler solution to measuring a heart rate, and since two people haven’t heard of this technique, it’s likely a lot more people haven’t heard of this technique either. If you’re looking for an entry to The Hackaday Prize, this would be a great jumping off point for anything in either the fitness or medical domains.

Turn a PC on with a Knock and an ATTiny


Pressing the power button on your computer usually isn’t too much trouble, unless your computer is stored away somewhere hard to reach. [Joonas] has been hard at work on a solution that would also impress his friends, building a knock sensor to turn on his PC.

For around $10 in parts he put together an ATTiny45 that emulates a PS/2 device, which takes advantage of his computer’s ability to boot upon receiving PS/2 input. The build uses a Piezo buzzer and a 1M Ohm resistor as a knock sensor exactly as the official Arduino tutorial demonstrates, and one of those PS/2-to-USB adapters that are most likely lurking in the back corner of every drawer in your office.

[Joonas] used AVRweb to disable the 8X clock divider so there’d be enough clock cycles for PS/2 communication, then loaded some test code to make sure the vibrations were being detected correctly. You can check out his Github for the final code here, and stick around after the break for a quick video demo. Then check out a similar hack with [Mathieu’s] home automation knock sensor.

Continue reading “Turn a PC on with a Knock and an ATTiny”