The inside of a Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectrometer

Spectrometer Detects Chemicals By Zapping Samples With A Laser Beam

Here at Hackaday, we love projects that result in useful lab equipment for a fraction of the cost of professional gear. [Lorenz], over at Advanced Tinkering, built his own instrument for Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy, or LIBS, and it’s quite an impressive device. LIBS is a technique for analyzing substances to find their chemical composition. Basically, the idea is to zap a sample with a powerful laser, then look at the little cloud of plasma that results and measure the wavelengths emitted by it.

A plot showing the spectrum of hematite
The spectrum of hematite (iron oxide), compared to that of pure iron

The laser [Lorenz] used is a Nd:YAG unit salvaged from a tattoo removal machine. After it fires a pulse, a photodiode detects the light and triggers a spectrometer, which consists of a diffraction grating, a few lenses and mirrors, and a linear CCD sensor. The grating splits the incoming lights into its constituent components, which fall onto the CCD and trigger its pixels. An STM32 Nucleo board reads out the results and sends them to a PC for further processing.

That processing bit turned out to be a full project on its own. [Lorenz] called upon [g3gg0], who software that simplifies the operation of the spectrometer. First, it helps with the instrument’s calibration. Point the detector at a well-known light source like a laser or a fluorescent lamp, then select the expected wavelengths on the resulting spectral plot. The software then automatically calculates the correct coefficients to map each pixel to a specific wavelength.

The software also contains a database of spectra corresponding to chemical elements: once you’ve taken a spectrum of an unknown sample, you can overlay these onto the resulting plot and try to find a match. The resulting system seems to work quite well. Samples of iron oxide and silver oxide gave a reasonable match to their constituent components.

We’ve seen other types of spectrometers before: if you simply want to characterize a light source, check out this Raspberry Pi-based model. If you’re interested in chemical analysis you might also want to look at this open-source Raman spectrometer.

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Make Your Own Tabletop Game Organizers With Online Tool

There is a vibrant cottage industry built around selling accessories to improve the storage and organization of tabletop games, but the more DIY-minded will definitely appreciate [Steve Genoud]’s deckinabox tool, which can create either 3D-printable designs, or ones more suited to folded paper or cardstock. Making your own organizer can be as satisfying as it is economical, and [Steve]’s tool aims to make customization simple and easy.

The tool can also generate models for folded paper or cardstock.

The interface for customizing the 3D-printable token tray, for example, begins with a simple filleted receptacle which one can split into additional regions by adding horizontal or vertical separators. The default is to split a given region down the middle, but every dimension can of course be specified.  Things like filleting of edges (for easier token scooping) and other details are all handled automatically. A handy 3D view gives a live render of the design after every change.

[Steve] has a blog post that goes into some added detail about how the tool was made, and it makes heavy use of replicad, [Steve]’s own library for generating browser-based 3D models in code. Intrigued by the idea of generating 3D models programmatically, and want to use it to make your own models? Don’t forget to also check out OpenSCAD; chances are it’s both easier to use and more capable than one might think.

DIY Hydrophone Listens In On The Deep For Cheap

The microphone is a pretty ubiquitous piece of technology that we’re all familiar with, but what if you’re not looking to record audio in the air, and instead want to listen in on what’s happening underwater? That’s a job for a hydrophone! Unfortunately, hydrophones aren’t exactly the kind of thing you’re likely to find at the big-box electronics store. Luckily for us, [Jules Ryckebusch] picked up a few tricks in his 20-year career as a Navy submariner, and has documented his process for building a sensitive hydrophone without needing a military budget.

Fascinated by all the incredible sounds he used to hear hanging around the Sonar Shack, [Jules] pored over documents related to hydrophone design from the Navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) until he distilled it all down to a surprisingly straightforward build. The key to the whole build is a commercially available cylindrical piezoelectric transducer designed for underwater communication that, incredibly, costs less than $20 USD a pop.

The transducer is connected to an op-amp board of his own design, which has been adapted from his previous work with condenser microphones. [Jules] designed the 29 x 26 mm board to fit neatly within the diameter of the transducer itself. The entire mic and preamp assembly can be cast inside a cylinder of resin. Specifically, he’s found an affordable two-part resin from Smooth-On that has nearly the same specific gravity as seawater. This allows him to encapsulate all the electronics in a way that’s both impervious to water and almost acoustically transparent. A couple of 3D-printed molds later, the hydrophone was ready to cast.

Interestingly, this isn’t the first homebrew hydrophone we’ve seen. But compared to that earlier entry, which basically just waterproofed a standard microphone pickup, we think this more thoughtful approach is likely to have far better performance.

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DIY Float Valve For Passive Hydroponics Leverages 3D Printing

[Billy] has a special interest in passive hydroponics (also known as the Kratky method), which is a way of growing plants in nutrient-rich water that does not circulate. As the plant grows and liquid level drops, only the tips of the roots remain submerged while more and more of the root surface is exposed to oxygen in a harmonious balance. However, “thirsty” plant types (tomatoes, for example) throw off this balance, and the system needs to be modified. To address this, [Billy] designed and printed a passive float valve system that takes care of topping up the reservoir only when needed, without using pumps or any other electrical equipment.

Commercial or industrial float valves are too big to use in his small tanks, which led [Billy] to test dozens of DIY designs. He used everything from plastic water bottles to pipe ends, but nothing quite measured up. With 3D printing, [Billy] was able to create a sealed, lightweight float that exactly matched the housing and tube locations.

A strip of silicone works as a sealing agent.

The way [Billy]’s float valve works is by using a hollow object as a kind of buoyant plug inside a housing. When the water level is high, the buoyant object rises up and presses a strip of silicone against an outlet, preventing water from flowing. If the water level is low, the buoyant plug drops and water is free to flow. With a reservoir of fresh nutrient-rich water placed above the grow tank, gravity takes care of pushing a fresh supply down a tube, so no active pump is needed. Combined with a passive float valve, the system pretty much runs itself.

Watch [Billy] give a tour of his system and valve design in the video embedded below. He’s got a lot of experience when it comes to working with projects involving liquids. Only someone as comfortable as he is would make his own DIY dishwasher.

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It’s Bad Apple, But On A 32K EPROM

The Bad Apple!! video with its silhouette animation style has long been a staple graphics demo for low-end hardware, a more stylish alternative to the question “Will it run DOOM?”. It’s normal for it to be rendered onto a screen by a small microcomputer or similar but as [Ian Ward] demonstrates in an unusual project, it’s possible to display the video without any processor being involved. Instead he’s used a clever arrangement involving a 32K byte EPROM driving a HD44780-compatible parallel alphanumeric LCD display.

While 32K bytes would have seemed enormous back in the days of 8-bit computing, even when driving only a small section of an alphanumeric LCD it’s still something of a struggle to express the required graphics characters. This feat is achieved by the use of a second EPROM, which carries a look-up table.

It’s fair to say that the result which can be seen in the video below the break isn’t the most accomplished rendition of Bad Apple!! that we’ve seen, but given the rudimentary hardware upon which it’s playing we think that shouldn’t matter. Why didn’t we think of doing this in 1988!

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Against The Cloud

One of our writers is working on an article about hosting your own (project) website on your own iron, instead of doing it the modern, cloudy-servicey way. Already, this has caused quite a bit of hubbub in the Hackaday Headquarters. Who would run their own server in 2022, and why?

The arguments against DIY are all strong. If you just want to spin up a static website, you can do it for free in a bazillion different places. GitHub’s Pages is super convenient, and your content is version controlled as a side benefit. If you want an IoT-type data-logging and presentation service, there are tons of those as well — I don’t have a favorite. If you want e-mail, well, I don’t have to tell you that a large American search monopoly offers free accounts, for the low price of slurping up all of your behavioral data. Whatever your need, chances are very good that there’s a service for you out there somewhere in the cloud.

And that’s awesome if you only want the service provided. But what if you want to play around? Or learn how it all works under the hood? This is Hackaday!

For instance, you could run your own mail server just for your friends and family. The aforementioned search monopolist will probably flag all of your e-mail as spam, partly because they don’t trust small e-mail providers, and partly because that’s the “m” in monopoly. But if you can get folks to whitelist the addresses, you’ll be in business. And then you open up a world of fun and foolery. You can write hooks to automatically handle mail, or you can create an infinite number of mail accounts, even on the fly as per Spamgourmet, the most awesome anti-spam tool of the last 30 years. Or you can invent your own. Run a mailing list for your relatives. Or do something stupid.

I used to run a service where, when a particular account received an e-mail, the attached photo was pushed up to a website with the subject line as the caption. Instant photo-blog, of the strangest and least secure sort. Getting it running was a few lines of Bash scripting, and an afternoon of fun. Is there a service that does this, already existing in the cloud? Probably. One that allows you a little privacy and doesn’t track your every move? Maybe. But even if there is, would I have learned about sendmail by using this service? Nope!

I hear you saying “security” under your breath, and you’re right. This system was secured by lock made of purest obscurity. But still, in seven years of running the service, nobody guessed the magic e-mail address, not once. Knowledge of the e-mail address was essentially a password, but if I needed extra security I probably could have implemented it in a few lines of Bash anyway. The webpage itself was static HTML, so good luck with that, Hackerman! (The site’s been down for a while now, so you missed your chance.)

If you just want a service, you can be served. But if you want to be a server, a first-class Internet citizen, with your own cloud in the sky, nothing’s stopping you either. And in contrast to using someone else’s computers, running your own is an invitation to play. It’s a big, Internet-connected sandbox. There are an infinity of funny ideas out there that you can implement on your own box, and a lot to learn. If you hack on someone else’s box, it’s a crime. If you hack on your own, it’s a pleasure.

I know it’s anachronistic, but give it a try. (PDF, obscenity, uncorrected typos.) Be your own cloud.

Mon Dieu! French Parent Kills Cell Service For An Entire Town To Stop Kids Surfing

It used to be that having technical skills meant that fixing the computer problems of elderly relatives was a regular occurrence. Over the last few years this has been joined by another request on our time; friends with teenage children requesting help configuring their routers such that Internet access is curtailed when the kids should sleeping. In France a desperate parent took more extreme measures, buying a wideband frequency jammer to ensure les petits anges can’t waste the night away on social media sites through their cellular connections. It had the intended effect, but sadly it also interrupted cellular coverage over a wide area The French spectrum regulator ANFR sent in their investigators (French, Google Translate link), and now the unfortunate parent faces the prospect of up to 6 months imprisonment and €30,000 fine for owning and using a device that’s illegal in France.

A cursory search of everybody’s favourite online electronics bazaars will find plenty of these devices, so perhaps what’s surprising is that we don’t see more of these devices even if it’s not the first tale of interference tracking that we’ve seen. Judging by the strategies our friends with kids take, we’d suggest meanwhile to the unfortunate French person, that they simply equip their kids with restricted data plans.