How Low Can You Go? Tiny Current Generator

Current limited power supplies are a ubiquitous feature of the bench, and have no doubt helped prevent many calamities and much magic smoke being released from pieces of electronics. But for all their usefulness they are a crude tool that has a current resolution in the range of amps rather than single digit milliamps or microamps.

To address this issue, [Yann Guidon] has produced a precision current source, a device designed to reliably inject tiny currents. And in a refreshing twist, it has an extremely simple circuit in the form of a couple of PNP transistors. It has a range from 20 mA to 5 µA which is set and fine-tuned by a pair of pots, and it has a front-panel ammeter hacked from a surplus pocket multimeter, allowing the current to be monitored. Being powered by its own internal battery (and a separate battery for the ammeter) it is not tied to the same ground as the circuit into which its current is being fed.

[Yann] is a prolific builder whose work has featured here more than once. Take a look at his rubidium reference and his discrete component clocks, for example, and his portable LED flash.

The Biggest Corner Antenna We’ve Ever Seen

Radio waves are received on antennas, for which when the signal in question comes over a long distance a big reflector is needed. When the reception distance is literally astronomical, the reflector has to be pretty darn big. [The Thought Emporium] wants to pick up signals from distant satellites, the moon, and hopefully a pulsar. On the scale of home-built amateur radio, this will be a monstrous antenna. The video also follows the break.

In hacker fashion, the project is built on a budget, so all the parts are direct from a hardware store, and the tools are already in your toolbox or hackerspace. Electrical conduit, chicken wire, PVC pipes, wood blocks, and screws make up most of the structure so put away your crazy links to Chinese distributors unless you need an SDR. The form of the antenna is the crucial thing, and the shape is three perpendicular panels as seen in the image and video. The construction in the video is just a suggestion, but it doesn’t involve welding, so that opens it to even more amateurs.

Even if you are not trying to receive a pulsar’s signature, we have hacks galore for radios and antennas.

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Bomb Hoist Teardown Shows Cold-War-Era Big Iron

Buying surplus equipment lends a frisson of excitement as you eagerly await the package or crate containing your purchase. Did you buy a hidden treasure, or has some shyster succeeded in unloading a pile of garbage onto you, their mark? [Professor Churls] shelled out $49.99 for a military surplus bomb hoist which definitely falls into the former category. His teardown reveals it to be a beautifully over-engineered piece of Cold-War-era American hardware.

As the package with its extremely heavy contents is first inspected, he reminds us just what a bomb hoist does, it is clipped to an aircraft by ground crew and serves as a small but extremely powerful crane to lift up to a 6000-pound piece of ordnance onto the wing pylon of an aircraft. This particular example dates from the 1960s, and features a 28-volt DC motor coupled to a bulky gearbox assembly on a swivel mount for attachment.

His teardown is extremely detailed, but such is the engineering and complexity of the device you’ll want to read every part of it. The motor is a fairly traditional separately-excited brushed DC design such as you’d expect from that era, but with unusual features such as brushes on pivots rather than a slide. The multiple sets of gears are packed in aged and phenolic-smelling grease, and have unusual features such as stub-form teeth for high torque at low durations. There is even an entirely separate gear train for the hex drive provided so that crews could keep the bombers rolling even when the power was out.

He leaves us with the tantalising information that there is a project awaiting this device, but doesn’t tell us what that might be. We hope we’ll get to see it, whatever it is. Meanwhile it’s great to see that this kind of item can still be found from military surplus suppliers, where this is being written they have degenerated into little more than stockists of camouflage-printed camping gear. Our colleague [Brandon Dunson] lamented in 2015 on the slow decline of the electronic surplus business in his location.

Teensy Hat Controls Games

[Carson] didn’t know how to use an accelerometer until he wired one up to a Teensy and put it all in a hat. The result is a joystick that will probably cause you neck problems if you play video games for very long. You can see a video of how the device came to be and how it works, below.

We liked the approach of building up the circuit and testing it before integrating it with the hat. He used a small breadboard with half the Teensy pins hanging off. That seems to work, although we’d be worried about something shorting or floating pins causing issues. Of course, if you drove the disconnected pins as outputs or inputs with pullups that might not be a big deal.

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Beverage Holder of Science

The folks at [K&J Magnetics] have access to precise magnetometers, a wealth of knowledge from years of experience but when it comes to playing around with a silly project like a magnetic koozie, they go right to trial and error rather than simulations and calculations. Granted, this is the opposite of mission-critical.

Once the experimentation was over, they got down to explaining their results so we can learn more than just how to hold our beer on the side of a toolbox. They describe three factors related to magnetic holding in clear terms that are the meat and bones of this experiment. The first is that anything which comes between the magnet and surface should be thin. The second factor is that it should be grippy, not slippy. The final element is to account for the leverage of the beverage being suspended. Say that three times fast.

Magnets are so cool for anything from helping visualize gas atoms, machinists’ tools, and circumventing firearm security features.

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SPINES Design Makes for Modular Energy Harvesting

The SPINES (Self-Powered IoT Node for Environmental Sensing) Mote is a wireless IoT environmental sensor, but don’t let the neatly packed single PCB fool you into thinking it’s not hackable. [Macro Yau] specifically designed SPINES to be highly modular in order to make designing an energy harvesting sensor node an easier task. The way [Macro] sees it, there are two big hurdles to development: one is the energy harvesting itself, and the other is the software required to manage the use of every precious joule of that harvested energy.

[Macro] designed the single board SPINES Mote in a way that the energy harvesting portion can be used independently, and easily integrated into other designs. In addition, an Arduino library is being developed to make it easy for the power management to be done behind the scenes, allowing a developer to concentrate on the application itself. A solar-powered wireless sensor node is one thing, but helping people get their ideas up and running faster in the process is wonderful to see.

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi: Virus Hunter

It was early 1983 and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi of the prestigious Pasteur Institute in Paris was busy at the centrifuge trying to detect the presence of a retrovirus. The sample in the centrifuge came from an AIDS patient, though the disease wasn’t called AIDS yet.

Barré-Sinoussi and Montagnier in 1983
Barré-Sinoussi and Montagnier in 1983, Image source: Le Globserver

Just two years earlier in the US, a cluster of young men had been reported as suffering from unusual infections and forms of cancer normally experienced by the very old or by people using drugs designed to suppress the immune system. More cases were reported and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) formed a task force to monitor the unusual outbreak. In December, the first scientific article about the outbreak was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

By May 1983, researchers Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier of the Pasteur Institute had isolated HIV, the virus which causes AIDS, and reported it in the journal Science. Both received the Nobel prize in 2008 for this work and the Nobel prize citation stated:

Never before have science and medicine been so quick to discover, identify the origin and provide treatment for a new disease entity.

It’s only fitting then that we take a closer look at one of these modern detectives of science, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, and what led to her discovery.

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