Revisiting old projects is always fun and this Nixie Clock by [pa3fwm] is just a classic. Instead of using transistors or microcontrollers, it uses neon lamps to clock and drive the Nixie Displays. The neon lamps themselves are the logic elements. Seriously, this masterpiece just oozes geekiness.
Inspired by the book “Electronic Counting Circuits” by J.B. Dance(ZIP), published in 1967, we covered the initial build a few years back. The fundamental concept of operation is similar to that of Neon Ring Counters. [Luc Small] has a write-up explaining the construction of such a device and some math associated with it. In this project, [pa3fwm] uses modern day neons that you find in indicators, so his circuit is also updated to compensate for the smaller difference in striking and maintaining voltages.
The original project was done in 2007 and has since undergone a few upgrades. [Pa3fwm] has modified the construction to make it wall mounted. Even though it’s not a precise timekeeper, the project itself is a keeper from its time. Check out the video below for a demonstration.
Feel inspired yet? Take a peek at the White Rabbit Nixie Clock and you are looking for a low voltage solution to powering Nixies then check out the 5-volt Nixie Power supply.
10 thoughts on “Neon Lamps Make For The Coolest Of Nixie Clocks”
I wonder if the usage of a small amount of radioactive material (maybe Americium from a smoke detector) would fix the “doesn’t work in the dark” issue.
Americium emits alpha ray which can only go a few inches and cannot pass through other matter. It works in smoke detector because the particle in smoke disrupt the ray and causes drop in sensor’s reading (which is why flea bomb and heavy dusting can trip alarm). I don’t know if the ray can pass through glass but you’d need a lot of Americium for the entire clock display.
Beta ray can travel longer and can pass through some matter but then you’d need to deal with Nuclear Regulatory Commission because it’s potentially harmful to people. Forget about gamma ray, it is far more dangerous and you’d have FBI watching you closely if you tried to get something just to make the clock work in the dark. Actually, gamma ray may end up lighting up the whole clock anyway.
Americium also emits low energy gamma rays
So you would like the active material IN the neon bulb. Like the Kr85 in some fluorescent starters and overvoltage protection arc tubes to help ionization.
Maybe just use a black light since UV is invisible.
Try these guys. Remember, if they aren’t watching you, you’re doing something wrong (:
One of the pop electronics zines of the early 60’s had a lengthy cover article of a neon lights and telephone dial computer. Boy this is fast, zhick 123, flip row, zhick 1234567. Flip mode switch, zhick…
Some organs that used these neon dividers had a little #47 lamp under the cover, keeping the light on.
A link to the article can be found here:
Workaround: thorium welding rod :-)
yes, I actually remember that article. Back in the day you used to be able to buy neons specifically for this application pre-doped with 85Kr (note: 85Kr will make your parcel full of Cold-War-era neons show up like a sore thumb on portal scanners!!)
Normally I don’t go for the nixie-clock fad (even though nixies are really cool). It’s a shame it eventually gave up the ghost (read the linked to page for his project), as it is a very cool clock.
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