Molecular Motor Drives Nano Submarine

Technology keeps making things smaller, but this is ridiculous. Scientists at Rice University in Houston have just made a tiny submarine with a molecular motor. They call it a unimolecular submersible nanomachine (USN), because it is composed of a single molecule made up of 244 atoms. The really smart bit comes from how it is driven: when the molecule absorbs a photon of light, one of the bonds that holds it together becomes more flexible, and the tail spins a quarter of a rotation to attach to another atom and reach the preferred lower energy state. This motion moves the molecule, and the process repeats. This happens millions of times a second.

I wouldn’t put down a deposit on a nanosub quite yet, though: the motion is random, as there is no way to steer the molecule at present. The researchers figured out that it behaves this way by analyzing the way that the molecule diffuses, because these molecules diffuse 25 per cent quicker with the light source than without.  Nope, not very practical, but it is a neat bit of molecular hackery.

Citizen Scientist: Forrest Mims

Before the modern notion of the citizen scientist lies the earlier ideal of the independent scientist. Scientists outside of the academic community but engaging with it. These days citizen scientists are often seen as valuable assistants in the scientific process, helping collect and process data in a quantity which would be otherwise intractable.

In the past however, independent scientists had a far more central role. Galileo, Kepler, Darwin and Hooke were all self funded at various points in their careers. More recently independent scientist Peter Mitchell won the Nobel prize for Chemistry in 1978 for his foundational research into cell biochemistry and the development of the chemiosmotic hypothesis.

Sadly, peer-reviewed scientific contributions by scientists un-sponsored by a research organization are now few and far between. In this short series we hope to highlight the efforts of these lone researchers with particular reference to the tools they’ve had to hack together on a budget in their scientific quests (if you know an independent researcher you think we should feature, please comment below!).

In Hacker circles Forrest Mims is perhaps best known for his series of electronics books and the unforgeable Atari Punk Console. But it’s his ability to engage with the scientific community as an independent researcher through a series of well thought out scientific articles that interests us here. Contributions made all the more significant by his lack of formal scientific training.

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Teeny Tiny Very Small – Atomic Resolution and the Home Hobbyist

Atoms are small. Really small. You just won’t believe how minusculely microscopically mindbogglingly small they are. I mean you may think it’s a short way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to atoms.

Atoms really are small. The atomic radius of a carbon atom is on the order of 0.1 nanometers, that’s 0.0000001 millimeters. It’s hard to grasp how fantastically small this is compared to objects we generally encounter, but as a starting point I’d recommend looking at the “Powers of Ten” video found below whose ability to convey the concept has been unrivaled since it was published in 1977.

The term nanometer might be most familiar from the semiconductor industry, and its seemingly unstoppable march to smaller feature sizes. Feature sizes currently hover somewhere around the 10 nanometer mark. So while these multi-billion dollar facilities can achieve 10nm precision it’s somewhat surprising that sub-nanometer feature size positioning, and fabrication techniques are available at relatively low cost to the hacker hobbyist.

In this article we’re going to review some of the amazing work demonstrated by hobbyists in the area of the very very small through use of cutting edge, but low cost techniques.

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Demonstrating Science at Harvard University

What if there was a job where you built, serviced, and prepared science demonstrations? This means showing off everything from principles of physics, to electronic theory, to chemistry and biology. Would you grab onto that job with both hands and never let go? That was my reaction when I met [Dan Rosenberg] who is a Science Lecture Demonstrator at Harvard University. He gave me a tour of the Science Center, as well as a behind the scenes look at some of the apparatus he works with and has built.

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Caption CERN Contest – Dr. Frankenstein would be proud

Week 16 of the Caption CERN Contest just flew by, but not without sparking some cosmic comic genius in the minds of everyone who wrote a comment. Thanks to everyone who entered! If you followed last week’s blog post, you already know that this image isn’t an early POV display, or some sort of strange data display technique. It’s actually a spark chamber. Spark chambers use high voltage and noble gases to create a visible trail of cosmic rays. Since this image is dated 1979, well after spark chambers were used for hard science, we’re guessing it was part of a demonstration at CERN’s labs.

The Funnies:

  • “Here we see Doug playing a Massively multiplayer Pong game against his peers in the next building over.” – [John Kiniston]
  • “It said “Would you like to play a game?” and I said yes. Are those missile launch tracks?”- [jonsmirl]
  • “Before Arduino you needed a whole room full of equipment to blink LEDs!” – [mjrippe]

After two weeks as a runner-up, this week’s winner is The Green Gentleman with “‘Hang on, let me fix the vert-hold, and then get ready for a most RIGHTEOUS game of 3D PONG!’ Sadly, this CERN spinoff never made it to the market”

We’re sure [The Green Gentleman] will be very courteous to his fellow hackers in sharing his new Bus Pirate From The Hackaday Store! Congratulations [The Green Gentleman]!

Week 17

cern-17-smCoils, gleaming metal, giant domes, now this is a proper mad scientist image! The CERN scientists in this image seem to be working on a large metal device of some sort. It definitely looks like an electrode which would be at home either at CERN or the well equipped home lab of one Dr. Frankenstein’s. We don’t have a caption, but we do have a rough date of August, 1961. What is happening in this image? Are these scientists setting up an experiment, or plotting world domination?

You tell us!

This week we’re giving away a Logic Pirate from The Hackaday Store.

Add your humorous caption as a comment to the contest log. Make sure you’re commenting on the contest log, not on the contest itself.

As always, if you actually have information about the image or the people in it, let CERN know on the original image discussion page.

Good Luck!

Making the Dune “Pain Box” a Reality

If you are unfamiliar with Dune, then you may not know what the pain box is. The pain box is a fictional device that produces an excruciating burning sensation without causing any actual damage. [Bryan] has been working on a project to duplicate this effect in the real world. It sounds like he may be on the right path by using the “thermal grill illusion”.

The thermal grill illusion is a sensory trick originally demonstrated back in 1896. The trick is made up of two interlaced grills. One is cool to the touch, and the other is warm. If the user touches a single grill, they won’t experience any pain because neither temperature is very extreme. However if the user places their hand over the interlaced grills simultaneously they will immediately experience a burning heat. This usually causes the person to pull their hand away immediately. It’s a fun trick and you can sometimes see examples of it at science museums.

The thermal grill illusion sounded like the perfect way to make the pain box a reality. [Bryan] has set specific constraints on this build to make it more true to the Dune series. He wants to ensure the entire package fits into a small box, just big enough to place an adult hand inside. He also wants to keep safety in mind, since it has the potential to actually cause harm if it were to overheat.

[Bryan] has so far tried two methods with varying success. The first attempt involved using several thermoelectric coolers (TECs). [Bryan] had seen PCBs etched a certain way allowing them to radiate heat. We’ve seen this before in 3D printer surfaces. He figured if they could become hot, then why couldn’t they become cold too? His idea was very simple. He etched a PCB that had just two large copper pours. Each one branched out into “fingers” making up the grill.

Each side of the grill ultimately lead to a flat surface to which a TEC was mounted. One side was cold and the other was hot. Heat sinks we attached to the open side of the TECs to help with performance. Unfortunately this design didn’t work. The temperature was not conducted down to the fingers at all. The back side of the PCB did get hot and cold directly under the TECs, but that wouldn’t work for this illusion.

The latest version of the project scraps the PCB idea and uses small diameter copper tubing for the grill. [Bryan] is working with two closed loop water systems. One is for warm water and the other is for cold. He’s using an aquarium pump to circulate the water and the TECs to actually heat or cool the water. The idea is that the water will change the temperature of the copper tubing as it flows through.

While the results so far are better than the previous revision, unfortunately this version is having problems of its own. The hot water eventually gets too hot, and it takes over an hour for it to heat up in the first place. On top of that, the cold water never quite gets cold enough. Despite these problems, [Bryan] is hopefully he can get this concept working. He has several ideas for improvements listed on his blog. Maybe some Hackaday readers can come up with some clever solutions to help this project come to fruition.

Caption CERN Contest

To say Hackaday has passionate folks in our comments section would be an understatement. You’ve made us laugh, made us cry, and made us search high and low for the edit button. From the insightful to the humorous, Hackaday’s comments have it all. So, we’re putting you to work helping out an organization that has done incredible work for science over the years.

The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) has quite a storied 60 year history. CERN has been involved in pursuits as varied as the discovery of neutral currents, to Higgs boson research, to the creation of the World Wide Web. Like any research scientists, CERN staff have always been good about documenting their work. Many of these records are in the form of photographs: hundreds of thousands of them. The problem is that no one kept records as to what each photograph depicts!

The folks at CERN are trying to remedy this by publishing over 120,000 unknown photos taken between 1955 and 1985. The hope is that someone out there recognizes the people and equipment in the photos, and can provide some insight as to what exactly we’re looking at.

Here at Hackaday we think these photos should be seen and discussed, and we’re going to have some fun doing it. To that end, we’re hosting the Caption CERN Contest on Each week we’ll add a project log with a new image from CERN’s archives. If you know what the image is, click on CERN’s discussion link for the photo and let them know! If you don’t know, take a shot at a humorous caption. Hackaday staff will pick the best caption each week. Winners will get a shirt from The Hackaday Store.

Here’s how it will work: A new project log will go up every week on Tuesday night at around 9pm PDT. The project log will contain an image from CERN’s archives. You have until the following Tuesday at 9pm PDT to come up with a caption, and drop it in the comments. One entry per user: if you post multiple entries, we’ll only consider the last one.

The first image is up, so head over and start writing those captions!

Good Luck!