Getting A Close-Up View Of Chip Formation With An SEM

When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And when you’ve got a scanning electron microscope, everything must look like a sample that would be really, really interesting to see enlarged in all its 3D glory. And this is what [Zachary Tong] delivers with this up close and personal look at the chip formation process.

We’ve got to hand it to [Zach] with this one, because it seems like this was one of those projects that just fought back the whole time. Granted, the idea of cutting metal inside the vacuum chamber of an SEM seems like quite an undertaking right up front. To accomplish this, [Zach] needed to build a custom tool to advance a cutting edge into a piece of stock by tiny increments. His starting point was a simple off-the-shelf linear stage, which needed a lot of prep work before going into the SEM vacuum chamber. The stage’s micrometer advances a carbide insert into a small piece of aluminum 50 microns at a time, raising a tiny sliver of aluminum while it slowly plows a tiny groove into the workpiece.

Getting the multiple shots required to make a decent animation with this rig was no mean feat. [Zach]’s SEM sample chamber doesn’t have any electrical connections, so each of the 159 frames required a painstaking process of advancing the tool, pulling down a vacuum in the chamber, and taking a picture. With each frame taking at least five minutes, this was clearly a labor of love. The results are worth it, though; stitched together, the electron micrographs show the chip formation process in amazing detail. The aluminum oxide layer on the top of the workpiece is clearly visible, as are the different zones of cutting action. The grain of the metal is also clearly visible, and the “gumminess” of the chip is readily apparent too.

For as much work as this was, it seems like [Zach] had things a bit easier than [Ben Krasnow] did when he tried something similar with a much less capable SEM.

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Ask Hackaday: What’s Your “Tactical Tool” Threshold?

With few exceptions, every field has a pretty modest set of tools that would be considered the minimum for getting most jobs done. A carpenter can make do with tools that would fit in a smallish bag, while a mechanic can handle quite a few repairs with a simple set of socket wrenches and other tools. Even in electronics, a lot of repairs and projects can be tackled with little more than a couple of pairs of pliers, some cutters, and a cheap soldering iron.

But while the basic kit of tools for any job may be enough, there will always be those jobs that need more tools. Oh sure, sometimes you can — and should — make do with what you’ve got; I can’t count the number of times I’ve used an elastic band wrapped around the handles of a pair of needlenose pliers as an impromptu circuit board vise. But eventually, you’re going to come upon a situation where only the “real” tool will do, and substitutes need not apply.

As I look around my shop and my garage, I realize that I may have a problem with these “tactical tool” purchases. I’ve bought so many tools that I’ve used far fewer times than I thought I would, or perhaps even never used, that I’m beginning to wonder if I tackle projects just as an excuse to buy tools. Then again, some of my tactical purchases have ended up being far more useful than I ever intended, which has only reinforced my tendency toward tool collecting. So I thought I’d share a few of my experiences with tactical tools, and see how the community justifies tactical tool acquisitions.

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Open-Source AR Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, May 31 at noon Pacific for the Open-Source AR Hack Chat with Raj Nakaraja!

We may live in a soup of electromagnetic waves that range in wavelength from the diameter of Jupiter down to a fraction of the radius of a hydrogen atom, but our eyeballs have evolved to only let us sense a tiny slice of that spectrum. That’s too bad, really, because there’s a lot going on in the rest of the spectrum that could potentially inform our ROYGBIV-centric view of the world. Think of the possibilities of being able to see UV the way an insect does, or being able to watch the radiation pattern of an antenna and make adjustments on the fly. Sounds like a job for augmented reality.

join-hack-chatIf seeing the world with different eyes sounds as cool to you as it does to us, you won’t want to miss Raj Nakaraja’s stop by the Hack Chat. Raj is head of engineering at Brilliant Labs, an augmented reality company that’s looking to bring AR into the mainstream. They’ve got some cool ideas about AR, and we’re going to take the opportunity to talk to Raj about open-source AR in general, Brilliant’s products specifically, and how AR can be incorporated into not only our projects, but into our lives as well.

Our Hack Chats are live community events in the Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, May 31 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

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Hackaday Links: May 28, 2023

The Great Automotive AM Radio War of 2023 rages on, with the news this week that Ford has capitulated, at least for now. You’ll recall that the opening salvo came when the US automaker declared that AM radio was unusable in their EV offerings thanks to interference generated by the motor controller. Rather than fixing the root problem, Ford decided to delete the AM option from their EV infotainment systems, while letting their rolling EMI generators just keep blasting out interference for everyone to enjoy. Lawmakers began rattling their sabers in response, threatening legislation to include AM radio in every vehicle as a matter of public safety. Ford saw the writing on the wall and reversed course, saying that AM is back for at least the 2024 model year, and that vehicles already delivered without it will get a fix via software update.

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Fly Like You Drive With This Flying RC Drift Car

So it’s 2023, and you really feel like we should have flying cars by now, right? Well, as long as you ignore the problem of scale presented by [Nick Rehm]’s flying RC drift car, we pretty much do.

At first glance, [Nick]’s latest build looks pretty much like your typical quadcopter. But the design has subtle differences that make it more like a car without wheels. The main difference is the pusher prop at the aft, which provides forward thrust without having to pitch the entire craft. Other subtle clues include the belly-mounted lidar and nose-mounted FPV camera, although those aren’t exactly unknown on standard UAVs.

The big giveaway, though, is the RC car-style remote used to fly the drone. Rather than use the standard two-joystick remote, [Nick] rejiggered his dRehmFlight open-source flight control software to make operating the drone less like flying and more like driving. The lidar is used to relieve the operator of the burden of altitude keeping by holding the drone at about a meter or so off the deck. And the video below shows it doing a really good job of it, for the most part — with anything as complicated as the multiple control loops needed to keep this thing in the air, it’s easy for a sudden input to confuse things.

We have to admit that [Nick]’s creation looks like a lot of fun to fly, or drive — whichever way you want to look at it. Either way, we like the simplification of the flight control system and translating the driving metaphor into flying — it seems like that’ll be something we need if we’re ever to have full-size flying cars.

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Getting Into NMR Without The Superconducting Magnet

Exploring the mysteries of quantum mechanics surely seems like an endeavor that requires room-sized equipment and racks of electronics, along with large buckets of grant money, to accomplish. And while that’s generally true, there’s quite a lot that can be accomplished on a considerably more modest budget, as this as-simple-as-it-gets nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscope amply demonstrates.

First things first: Does the “magnetic resonance” part of “NMR” bear any relationship to magnetic resonance imaging? Indeed it does, as the technique of lining up nuclei in a magnetic field, perturbing them with an electromagnetic field, and receiving the resultant RF signals as the nuclei snap back to their original spin state lies at the heart of both. And while MRI scanners and the large NMR spectrometers used in analytical chemistry labs both use extremely powerful magnetic fields, [Andy Nicol] shows us that even the Earth’s magnetic field can be used for NMR.

[Andy]’s NMR setup couldn’t be simpler. It consists of a coil of enameled copper wire wound on a 40 mm PVC tube and a simple control box with nothing more than a switch and a couple of capacitors. The only fancy bit is a USB audio interface, which is used to amplify and digitize the 2-kHz-ish signal generated by hydrogen atoms when they precess in Earth’s extremely weak magnetic field. A tripod stripped of all ferrous metal parts is also handy, as this setup needs to be outdoors where interfering magnetic fields can be minimized. In use, the coil is charged with a LiPo battery for about 10 seconds before being rapidly switched to the input of the USB amp. The resulting resonance signal is visualized using the waterfall display on SDR#.

[Andy] includes a lot of helpful tips in his excellent write-up, like tuning the coil with capacitors, minimizing noise, and estimating the exact resonance frequency expected based on the strength of the local magnetic field. It’s a great project and a good explanation of how NMR works. And it’s nowhere near as loud as an MRI scanner.

New Drug Has Potential As Dirty Bomb Antidote

It perhaps goes without saying that one nuclear bomb can really ruin your day. The same is true for non-nuclear dirty bombs, which just use conventional explosives to disperse radioactive material over a wide area. Either way, the debris scattered by any type of radiation weapon has the potential to result in thousands or perhaps millions of injuries, for which modern medicine offers little in the way of relief.

HOPO 14-1, aka 3,4,3-Li(1,2-HOPO). The four hydroxypyridinone groups do the work of coordinating radioactive ions and making them soluble so they can be eliminated in urine.

But maybe not for long. A Phase 1 clinical trial is currently underway to see if an oral drug is able to scour radioactive elements from the human body. The investigational compound is called HOPO 14-1, a chelating agent that has a high affinity for metals in the actinide series, which includes plutonium, uranium, thorium, and cerium curium. Chelating agents, which are molecules that contain a multitude of electron donor sites, are able to bind to positively charged metal ions and make the soluble in aqueous solutions. Chelators are important in food and pharmaceutical processing — read the ingredients list on just about anything from a can of soda to a bottle of shampoo and you’re likely to see EDTA, or ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, which binds to any metal ions that make it into the product, particularly iron ions that come from the stainless steel plumbing used in processing equipment.

The compound under evaluation, HOPO 14-1, is a powerful chelator of metal ions. Its structure is inspired by natural chelators produced by bacteria and fungi, called siderophores, which help the microorganisms accumulate iron. Its mechanism of action is to sequester the radioactive ions and make them soluble enough to be passed out of the body in the urine, rather than to have the radioactive elements carried around the body and incorporated into the bones and other tissues where they can cause radiation damage for years.

HOPO 14-1 has a number of potential benefits over the current frontline chelator for plutonium and uranium toxicity, DTPA or diethylenetriaminepentaacetic acid. Where DTPA needs to be injected intravenously to be effective, HOPO 14-1 can be made into a pill, making stockpiling and administering the drug easier. If, of course, it passes Phase 1 safety trials and survives later trials to determine efficacy.