Mining And Refining: Pure Silicon And The Incredible Effort It Takes To Get There

Were it not for the thin sheath of water and carbon-based life covering it, our home planet would perhaps be best known as the “Silicon World.” More than a quarter of the mass of the Earth’s crust is silicon, and together with oxygen, the silicate minerals form about 90% of the thin shell of rock that floats on the Earth’s mantle. Silicon is the bedrock of our world, and it’s literally as common as dirt.

But just because we have a lot of it doesn’t mean we have much of it in its pure form. And it’s only in its purest form that silicon becomes the stuff that brought our world into the Information Age. Elemental silicon is very rare, though, and so getting appreciable amounts of the metalloid that’s pure enough to be useful requires some pretty energy- and resource-intensive mining and refining operations. These operations use some pretty interesting chemistry and a few neat tricks, and when scaled up to industrial levels, they pose unique challenges that require some pretty clever engineering to deal with.

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This is a MIDI harp that is played by waving your hands in the air over the infrared distance sensors.

Teensy MIDI Air Harp Sounds Huge

Some of the coolest sounds come from wild instruments like orchestra strings, fretless basses, and theremins — instruments that aren’t tied down by the constraints of frets and other kinds of note boundaries. [XenonJohn]’s air harp is definitely among this class of music makers, all of which require a certain level of manual finesse to play well.

Although inspired by Jean-Michel Jarre’s laser harp, there are no lasers here. This is a MIDI aetherharp, aka an air harp, and it is played by interrupting the signals from a set of eight infrared distance sensors. These sensors can be played at three different heights for a total of 24 notes, plus there’s a little joystick for doing pitch bends.

Inside the wooden enclosure of this aetherharp is a Teensy 3.5 and eight infrared distance sensors with particularly long ranges. On top is a layer of red acrylic that doesn’t affect the playability, except in bright sunlight. Although you could use most any MIDI software to produce the actual sounds, [XenonJohn] chose VMPK (Virtual MIDI Piano Keyboard). Be sure to check it out in action after the break.

Not dangerous enough for you? Here’s a laser harp that involves a Tesla coil.

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Treasure Hunting With A Handful Of Common Components

Sometimes simpler is better — when you don’t need the the computational power of an onboard microcontroller, it’s often best to rely on a simple circuit to get the job done. With cheap Raspberry Pis and ESP32s all over the place, it can be easy to forget that many simpler projects can be completed without a single line of code (and with the ongoing chip shortage, it may be more important now than ever to remember that).

[mircemk] had the right idea when he built his simple induction-balance metal detector. It uses a couple of 555 timers, transistors, and passives to sense the presence of metallic objects via a coil of wire. He was able to detect a coin up to 15 cm away, and larger objects at 60cm — not bad for a pile of components you probably have in your bench’s spare parts drawer right now! The detector selectivity can be tuned by a couple of potentiometers, and in true metal detector fashion, it has a buzzer to loudly blare at you once it’s found something (along with a LED, in case the buzzer gets too annoying).

All in all, this metal detector looks like a terribly fun project — one perfectly suited to beginners and more seasoned hackers alike. It serves as a great reminder that not every project needs WiFi or an OLED display to be useful, but don’t let that stop you from overdoing things! If touchscreens are more your speed, [mircemk] has got you covered with a smartphone-integrated version as well.

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