World’s Smallest Benchy Shows Off What 3D-Printing Can Do For “Microswimmers”

We’ve said it before, but we cast a wary eye at any superlative claims that come our way. “World’s fastest” or “world’s first” claims always seem to be quickly debunked, but when the claim of “World’s Smallest Benchy” is backed up by a tugboat that two dozen E. coli would have a hard time finding space on, we’re pretty comfortable with it.

Of course the diminutive benchmark was not printed just for the sake of it, but rather as part of a demonstration of what’s possible with “microswimmers”, synthetic particles which are designed to move about freely in microscopic regimes. As described in a paper by [Rachel P. Doherty] et al from the Soft Matter Physics lab at Leiden University, microswimmers with sizes on the order of 10 to 20 μm can be constructed repeatably, and can include a small area of platinum catalyst. The catalyst is the engine of the microswimmer; hydrogen peroxide in the environment decomposes on the catalyst surface and provides a propulsive force.

Artificial microswimmers have been around for a while, but most are made with chemical or evaporative methods which result in simple shapes like rods and spheres. The current work describes much more complex shapes — the Benchy was a bit of a flex, since the more useful microswimmers were simple helices, which essentially screw themselves into the surrounding fluid. The printing method was based on two-photon polymerization (2PP), a non-linear optical process that polymerizes a resin when two photons are simultaneously absorbed.

The idea that a powered machine so small could be designed and manufactured is pretty cool. We’d love to see how control mechanisms could be added to the prints — microfluidics, perhaps?

Simple Induction Heater Helps With Homebrew Shrink-Fitting

Machinists have a lot of neat shop tricks, but one especially interesting one is shrink-fitting tools. Shrink-fitting achieves an interference fit between tool and holder by creating a temperature difference between the two before assembly. Once everything returns to temperature, the two parts may as well be welded together.

The easiest way to shrink-fit machine tooling is with induction heating, and commercial rigs exist for doing the job. But [Roetz 4.0] decided to build his own shrink-fitting heater, and the results are pretty impressive. The induction heater itself is very simple — a 48 volt, 20 amp power supply, an off-the-shelf zero-voltage switching (ZVS) driver, and a heavy copper coil. When the coil is powered up, any metal within is quickly and evenly heated by virtue of the strong magnetic flux in the coil.

To use the shrinker, [Roetz 4.0] starts with a scrupulously clean tool holder, bored slightly undersized for the desired tool. Inside the coil, the steel tool holder quickly heats to a lovely deep brown color, meaning it has gotten up to the requisite 250-300°C. The tool is quickly dropped into the now-expanded bore, which quickly shrinks back around it. The advantage of this method over a collet or a chuck is clear in the video below: practically zero runout, and the tool is easily released after another run through the heater.

You say you’ve got no need for shrink-fitting tools? How about stuck bolts? Induction heaters work great there too.

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Plastic Strips Protect Ball Screws On This Homebrew CNC Router

It’s a fact of life for CNC router owners — swarf. Whether it’s the fine dust from a sheet of MDF or nice fat chips from a piece of aluminum, the debris your tool creates gets everywhere. You can try to control it at its source, but swarf always finds a way to escape and cause problems.

Unwilling to deal with the accumulation of chips in the expensive ball screws of his homemade CNC router, [Nikodem Bartnik] took matters into his own hands and created these DIY telescopic ball screw covers. Yes, commercial ball screw covers are available, but they are targeted at professional machines, and so are not only too large for a homebrew machine like his but also priced for pro budgets. So [Nikodem] recreated their basic design: strips of thin material wound into a tight spring that forms a tube that can extend and retract. The first prototypes were from paper, which worked but proved to have too much friction. Version 2 was made from sheets of polyester film, slippery enough to get the job done and as a bonus, transparent. They look pretty sharp, and as you can see in the video below, seem to perform well.

It’s nice to see a build progress to the point where details like this can be addressed. We’ve been following [Nikodem]’s CNC build for years now, and it really has come a long way.

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The Art Of Nixies Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, October 28th at noon Pacific for The Art of Nixies Hack Chat with Dalibor Farný!

When they were invented in the 1950s, Nixie tubes were a huge leap forward in display technology. In the days before affordable LEDs made seven-segment displays a commodity, there were few alternatives to the charming glow of the clear and legible characters inside Nixies. Sturdy and reliable, the cold-cathode displays found their way into everything from scientific instruments to test equipment, and even some of the earliest computers and the equipment that formed the foundation of the Space Race sported the venerable tubes.

But time marches on, and a display that requires high voltage and special driver circuits isn’t long for a world where LEDs are cheap and easy to design with. Nixies fell from favor through the late 1960s and 1970s, to the point where new tubes were only being made by the Russians, until that supply dried up as well. Rediscovered by hobbyists for use in quirky clocks and other displays, any stock left over from the Nixie’s heyday are quickly being snapped up, putting the tubes on the fast track to unobtainium status.

That’s not to say that you can’t get brand new Nixie tubes, of course. Artisanal manufacturers like Dalibor Farný have taken the Nixie to a whole new level, with big, beautiful tubes that are handcrafted from the best materials. Reviving the somewhat lost art of Nixie manufacturing wasn’t easy, but the tubes that Dalibor makes in a castle in the Czech Republic now find their way into cool clocks and other builds around the world. He’ll join us on the Hack Chat to dive into the art and science of Nixies, and what’s going on with his mysterious “Project H”.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, October 28 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones baffle you as much as us, 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 Hackaday.io. 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: October 25, 2020

Siglent has been making pretty big inroads into the mid-range test equipment market, with the manufacturers instruments popping up on benches all over the place. Saulius Lukse, of Kurokesu fame, found himself in possession of a Siglent SPD3303X programmable power supply, which looks like a really nice unit, at least from the hardware side. The software it came with didn’t exactly light his fire, though, so Saulius came up with a Python library to control the power supply. The library lets him control pretty much every aspect of the power supply over its Ethernet port. There are still a few functions that don’t quite work, and he’s only tested it with his specific power supply so far, but chances are pretty good that there’s at least some crossover in the command sets for other Siglent instruments. We’re keen to see others pick this up and run with it.

From the “everyone needs a hobby” department, we found this ultra-detailed miniature of an IBM 1401 mainframe system to be completely enthralling. We may have written this up at an earlier point in its development, but it now appears that the model maker, 6502b, is done with the whole set, so it bears another look. The level of detail is eye-popping — the smallest features of every piece of equipment, from the operator’s console to the line printer, is reproduced . Even the three-ring binders with system documentation are there. And don’t get us started about those tape drives, or the wee chair in period-correct Harvest Gold.

Speaking of diversions, have you ever wondered how many people are in space right now? Or how many humans have had the privilege to hitch a ride upstairs? There’s a database for that: the Astronauts Database over on Supercluster. It lists pretty much everything — human and non-human — that has been intentionally launched into space, starting with Yuri Gagarin in 1961 and up to the newest member of the club, Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, who took off got the ISS just last week from his hometown of Baikonur. Everyone and everything is there, including “some tardigrades” that crashed into the Moon. They even included this guy, which makes us wonder why they didn’t include the infamous manhole cover.

And finally, for the machinists out there, if you’ve ever wondered what chatter looks like, wonder no more. Breaking Taps has done an interesting slow-motion analysis of endmill chatter, and the results are a bit unexpected. The footage is really cool — watching the four-flute endmill peel mild steel off and fling the tiny curlicues aside is very satisfying. The value of the high-speed shots is evident when he induces chatter; the spindle, workpiece, vise, and just about everything starts oscillating, resulting in a poor-quality cut and eventually, when pushed beyond its limits, the dramatic end of the endmill’s life. Interesting stuff — reminds us a bit of Ben Krasnow’s up close and personal look at chip formation in his electron microscope.

Super-Simple VGA Adapter Sports Low-Res Output With Only Four TTL Chips

Here at Hackaday we cast a wary eye at tips that come in with superlative claims. Generally, if we post something that claims to be the fastest or the smallest of all time, we immediately get slapped down in the comments by someone who has done it faster or smaller. So we present the simplest TTL video card ever knowing the same thing will happen, but eager to see how anyone might scale things down.

To be fair, [George Foot] does qualify his claim to the simplest usable VGA adapter, and he does note that it descends from [Ben Eater]’s “world’s worst video card”, which he uses for his 6502 breadboard computer. But where [Ben]’s VGA adapter uses about 20 TTL chips and an EEPROM, [George] has managed to decrease the BOM to just four TTL chips along with the memory and a crystal oscillator. This required a fair number of compromises, of course; the color depth is fairly low, as is the resolution. Each pixel appears as a thin horizontal bar rather than a small square, leading the images to be smeared out across the screen. They’re still surprisingly viewable, though, which probably says more about the quality of the pattern-recognition wetware between our ears than anything about the quality of the adapter. [George] gives a tour of the circuit in the brief video below.

It looks like [George] has posted a few improvements to the project since we first spotted it, so we’re looking forward to seeing how much the parts count went up. We’re also keen to see if anyone can outdo the simplicity of this effort — be sure to let us know if you give it a shot.

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Cardboard Models Trace Design Process Of Vintage Tektronix Miniscopes

There aren’t many brands that inspire the kind of passion and fervency among its customers as Tektronix does. The venerable Oregon-based manufacturer of top-end test equipment has produced more collectible gear over the last 75 years than just about anyone else.

Over that time they have had plenty of innovations, and in the 1970s they started looking into miniaturizing their flagship oscilloscopes. The vintageTEK museum, run by current and former employees, has a review of the design process of the 200 series of portable oscilloscopes that’s really interesting. At a time when scopes were portable in the way a packed suitcase is portable, making a useful instrument in a pocketable form factor was quite a challenge — even for big pockets.

The article goes into great detail on the back-and-forth between the industrial designers, with their endless stream of models, and the engineers who would actually have to stuff a working scope into whatever case they came up with. The models from the museum’s collection are wonderful bits of history and show where the industrial designers really pushed for some innovative designs.

Some of the models are clearly derived from the design of the big bench scopes, but some have innovative flip-down covers and other interesting elements that never made it to production. Most of the models are cardboard, but some were made of aluminum in the machine shop and sport the familiar “Tek blue” livery. But the pièce de résistance of the collection is a working engineering model of what would become the 200-series of miniscopes, a handmade prototype with a tiny round CRT and crudely labeled controls.

The vintageTEK museum sounds like another bucket-list stop for computer and technology history buffs. Tek has been doing things their own way for a long time, and stopping by the museum is sure to be a treat.

Thanks to [Tanner Bass] for the tip.