Keith Thorne, Engineer At LIGO, To Deliver Remoticon Keynote

It is my pleasure to announce that Keith Thorne has graciously agreed to deliver a keynote take at Hackaday Remoticon 2. Get your ticket now!

Keith is an astrophysicist and has worked on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) since 2008, literally looking for ripples in space-time that you know as gravitational waves. The effects of the phenomena are so subtle that detecting an event requires planet-scale sensors in the form of 4 km long interferometers placed in different parts of the United States whose readings can be compared against one another. A laser beam inside these interferometers bounces back and forth 300 times for a total travel distance of 1,200 km in which any interaction with gravitational waves will ever-so-slightly alter how the photons from the beam register.

The challenges of building, operating, and interpreting such a device are manifold. These interferometers are the highest precision devices ever devised, able to detect motion 1/10,000 of the diameter of a proton! To get there, the mirrors need to be cooled to 77 nano-Kelvins. Getting the most out of it is what Keith and the rest of the team specialize in. This has included things like hacking the Linux kernel to achieve a sufficient level of real-time digital control, and using “squeezed light” to improve detection sensitivity in frequencies where quantum mechanics is getting in the way. While the detectors were first run in 2015 & 2016, successfully observing three events, the work to better understand this phenomenon is ongoing and may include a third site in India, and a space-based detector in the future.

In getting to know Keith he mentioned that he is excited to speak to a conference packed with people who want to hear the gory technical details of this fantastic piece of hardware. I’m sure we’re all giddy to learn what he has to say. But if you’re someone who wants to work on a project like this, he tipped us off that there’s an active EE job posting for LIGO right now. Maybe you’ll end up doing the keynote at a future Hackaday conference.

Call for Proposals is Still Open!

We’re still on the hunt for great talks about hardware creation. True creativity is fed by a steady stream of inspiration. Be that inspiration by giving a talk about the kinds of things you’ve been working on!

Magnetic Experiments Shows Gradients

You’ve probably heard the term magnetic gradient before, but have you ever seen one? Now you can in [supermagnetman’s] video, below. The key is to use very fine (2 micron) iron filings and special silicone oil. The video is a good mix of whiteboard lectures and practical hands-on experimenting. Just watching him spin the iron filings in the bottle was entertaining. There’s sources in the video description for the oil and the filings if you want to replicate the demonstrations for a classroom or just for your own enjoyment.

It’s one thing to know the math behind magnetic fields. It’s another to be able to use them in practical applications. But a good understanding of the physical manifestation of the magnetic field coupled can help clarify the math and vice versa. There’s a lot of common sense explanations too. For example, the way the filings accelerate as they get closer to the magnet explains why the patterns form the way they do. Iron filings are a traditional way to “see” magnetic fields. Ask anyone who ever had a Wooly Willy.

Iron filings can be fun to play with, although we don’t think we’ve ever had any this fine. If you prefer your magnetic field visualizations to be higher-tech, we have the answer.

Continue reading “Magnetic Experiments Shows Gradients”

Things Are Looking Brighter! But Not The Stars

Growing up in Montana I remember looking out at night and seeing the Milky Way, reminding me of my insignificance in the universe. Now that I live in a city, such introspection is no longer easy, and like 1/2 of humanity that also lives in urban areas, I must rely on satellites to provide the imagery. Yet satellites are part of the problem. Light pollution has been getting worse for decades, and with the recent steady stream of satellite launches and billionaire joyrides we have a relatively new addition to the sources of interference. So how bad is it, and how much worse will it get?

Looking up at the night sky, you can usually tell the difference between various man-made objects. Planes go fairly slowly across the sky, and you can sometimes see them blinking green and red. Meteors are fast and difficult to see. Geostationary satellites don’t appear to move at all because they are orbiting at the same rate as earth’s rotation, while other orbit types will zip by.

SpaceX has committed to reducing satellite brightness, and some observations have confirmed that new models are a full magnitude darker, right at the threshold of naked-eye observation. Unfortunately, it’s only a step in the right direction, and not enough to satisfy astronomers, who aren’t looking up at the night sky with their naked eyes, naturally.

The satellites aren’t giving off the light themselves. They are merely reflecting the light from the sun back to the earth, exactly the same way the moon is. Thus something that is directly in the shadow of the Earth will not reflect any light, but near the horizon the reflection from the satellites can be significant. It’s not practical to only focus our observatories in the narrow area that is the Earth’s shadow during the night, so we must look closer to the horizon and capture the reflections of the satellites. Continue reading “Things Are Looking Brighter! But Not The Stars”

Tiny Winged Circuits Fall With Style

Researchers at Northwestern University is moving the goalposts on how small you can make a tiny flying object down to 0.5 mm, effectively creating flying microchips. Although “falling with style” is probably a more accurate description.

A larger "IoT Macroflyer" with more conventional cicruitry
A larger “IoT Macroflyer” with more conventional circuitry

Like similar projects we featured before from the Singapore University of Technology and Design, these tiny gliders are inspired by the “helicopter seeds” produced by various tree species. They consist of a single shape memory polymer substrate, with circuitry consisting of silicon nanomembrane transistors and chromium/gold interconnects transferred onto it.

Looking at the research paper, it appears that the focus at this stage was mainly on the aerodynamics and manufacturing process, rather than creating functional circuitry. A larger “IoT Macroflyer”┬ádid include normal ICs, which charges a super capacitor from a set of photodiodes operating in the UV-A spectrum, which acts as a cumulative dosimeter. The results of which can be read via NFC after recovery.

As with other similar projects, the proposed use-cases include environmental monitoring and surveillance. Air-dropping a large quantity of these devices over the landscape would constitute a rather serious act of pollution, for which case the researchers have also created a biodegradable version. Although we regard these “airdropped sensor swarms” with a healthy amount of skepticism and trepidation, we suspect that they will probably be used at some point in the future. We just hope that those responsible would have considered all the possible consequences.

Handheld Bandsaw Gets Standup Conversion With Scrap Lumber

Handheld band saws exist, and can be highly useful tools. However, they lack some of the finesse and precision of the more traditional upright units, particularly for with smaller workpieces. [Honus] set about rectifying this, building a stand for their DeWalt handheld bandsaw out of scrap lumber.

The stand consists of some hefty wooden beams sawn to length and screwed together to make a support for the bandsaw. A nice 1/4″ thick aluminium plate is installed as a baseplate for cutting.

Then, the handheld bandsaw itself is attached to the rig, held in place with a bolt and a large zip tie. The zip tie is fastened around the trigger, holding it down all the time. Then, a switched powerboard is used to turn the saw on and off as needed. Importantly, simply cutting a ziptie and removing a bolt is enough to restore the handheld saw to its original purpose.

It’s a tidy build and one that makes an existing tool more useful for minimal extra cost. We’ve actually seen bandsaws built from scratch, too. If you’re cooking up your own great hacks in the home shop, be sure to let us know!