[Cody] Builds a Chlorine Machine

In his continuing bid to have his YouTube channel demonetized, [Cody] has decided to share how he makes chlorine gas in his lab. Because nothing could go wrong with something that uses five pounds of liquid mercury and electricity to make chlorine, hydrogen, and lye.

We’ll be the first to admit that we don’t fully understand how the Chlorine Machine works. The electrochemistry end of it is pretty straightforward – it uses electrolysis to liberate the chlorine from a brine solution. One side of the electrochemical cell generates chlorine, and one side gives off hydrogen as a byproduct. We even get the purpose of the mercury cathode, which captures the sodium metal as an amalgam. What baffles us is how [Cody] is pumping the five pounds of mercury between the two halves of the cell. Moving such a dense liquid would seem challenging, and after toying with more traditional approaches like a peristaltic pump, [Cody] leveraged the conductivity of mercury to pump it using a couple of neodymium magnets. He doesn’t really explain the idea other than describing it as a “rail-gun for mercury,” but it appears to work well enough to gently circulate the mercury. Check out the video below for the build, which was able to produce enough chlorine to dissolve gold and to bleach cloth.

We need to offer the usual warnings about how playing with corrosive, reactive, and toxic materials is probably not for everyone. His past videos, from turning urine into gunpowder to mining platinum from the side of the road, show that [Cody] is clearly very knowledgeable in the ways of chemistry and that he takes to proper precautions. So if you’ve got a jug of mercury and you want to try this out, just be careful.

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Reverse Engineering a DNA Sequencer

Improvements in methodology have dramatically dropped the cost of DNA sequencing in the last decade. In 2007, it cost around $10 million dollars to sequence a single genome. Today, there are services which will do it for as little as $1,000. That’s not to bad if you just want to examine your own DNA, but prohibitively expensive if you’re looking to experiment with DNA in the home lab. You can buy your own desktop sequencer and cut out the middleman, but they cost in the neighborhood of $50,000. A bit outside of the experimenter’s budget unless you’re Tony Stark.

But thanks to the incredible work of [Alexander Sokolov], the intrepid hacker may one day be able to put a DNA sequencer in their lab for the cost of a decent oscilloscope. The breakthrough came as the result of those two classic hacker pastimes: reverse engineering and dumpster diving. He realized that the heavy lifting in a desktop genome sequencer was being done in a sensor matrix that the manufacturer considers disposable. After finding a source of trashed sensors to experiment with, he was able to figure out not only how to read them, but revitalize them so he could introduce a new sample.

To start with, [Alexander] had to figure out how these “disposable” sensors worked. He knew they were similar in principle to a digital camera’s CCD sensor; but rather than having cells which respond to light, they read changes in pH level. The chip contains 10 million of these pH cells, and each one needs to be read individually hundreds of times to capture the entire DNA sequence.

Enlisting the help of some friends who had experience reverse engineering silicon, and armed with an X-Ray machine and suitable optical microscope, he eventually figured out how the sensor matrix worked electrically. He then designed a board that reads the sensor and dumps the “picture” of the DNA sample to his computer over serial.

Once he could reliably read the sensor, the next phase of the project was finding a way to wash the old sample out so it could be reloaded. [Alexander] tried different methods, and after several wash and read cycles, he nailed down the process of rejuvenating the sensor so its performance essentially matches that of a new one. He’s currently working on the next generation of his reader hardware, and we’re very interested to see where the project goes.

This isn’t the first piece of DIY DNA hardware we’ve seen here at Hackaday, and it certainly won’t be the last. Like it or not, hackers are officially fiddling with genomes.

The “P Cell” is Exactly What You Might Suspect

[Josh Starnes] had a dream. A dream of a device that could easily and naturally be activated to generate power in an emergency, or just for the heck of it. That device takes in urea, which is present in urine, and uses it to generate a useful electrical charge. [Josh] has, of course, named this device the P Cell.

An early proof of concept uses urine to create a basic galvanic cell with zinc and copper electrodes, but [Josh] has other ideas for creating a useful amount of electricity with such a readily-available substance. For example, the urea could be used to feed bacteria or micro algae in a more elegantly organized system. Right now the P Cell isn’t much more than a basic design, but the possibilities are more than just high-minded concepts. After all, [Josh] has already prototyped a Hybrid Microbial Fuel Cell which uses a harmonious arrangement of bacteria and phytoplankton to generate power.

[Josh]’s entries were certainly among some of the more intriguing ones we saw in the Power Harvesting Challenge portion of The Hackaday Prize, and we’re delighted that his ideas will be in the running for the Grand Prize of $50,000.

Cheap PSoC Enables Electrochemistry Research

You may think electrochemistry sounds like an esoteric field where lab-coated scientists labor away over sophisticated instruments and publish papers that only other electrochemists could love. And you’d be right, but only partially, because electrochemistry touches almost everything in modern life. For proof of that look no further than your nearest pocket, assuming that’s where you keep your smartphone and the electrochemical cell that powers it.

Electrochemistry is the study of the electrical properties of chemical reactions and does indeed need sophisticated instrumentation. That doesn’t mean the instruments have to break the grant budget, though, as [Kyle Lopin] shows with this dead-simple potentiostat built with one chip and one capacitor. A potentiostat controls the voltage on an electrode in an electrochemical cell. Such cells have three electrodes — a working electrode, a reference electrode, and a counter electrode. The flow of electrons between these electrodes and through the solutions under study reveal important properties about the reduction and oxidation states of the reaction. Rather than connect his cell to an expensive potentiostat, [Kyle] used a Cypress programmable system-on-chip development board to do everything. All that’s needed is to plug the PSoC into a USB port for programming, connect the electrodes to GPIO pins, and optionally add a 100 nF capacitor to improve the onboard DAC’s accuracy. The video below covers the whole process, albeit with a barely audible voiceover.

Still not sure about electrochemistry? Check out this 2018 Hackaday Prize entry that uses the electrochemistry of life to bring cell phones back to life.

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Thermal Actuators: Hydraulic Motors That Feed on Temperature Changes

These Fluid Displacement Thermal Actuators designed by [Andrew Benson] are a delightful and profoundly different approach to the Power Harvesting Challenge portion of The Hackaday Prize. While most projects were focused on electrical power, [Andrew]’s design is essentially a mechanical motor that harnesses the fact that Phase Change Materials (PCMs) change volume when they go from liquid to solid or vice-versa; that property is used to provide a useful hydraulic force. In short, it’s a linear actuator that retracts and expands as the PCM freezes or melts. By choosing a material with melting and freezing temperatures that are convenient for the operating environment, an actuator can be reliably operated virtually for free. A proof of concept is the device shown here; a model of a sun-shade that deploys when a certain temperature is reached and retracts when it has cooled.

Sunshade concept, from deployed (top) to retracted (bottom).

Turning temperature changes into useful physical work is the principle behind things like wax motors and even some self-winding clocks, but what [Andrew] has done is devise a useful method of interfacing directly to the fluids; abstracting away the materials themselves in order to provide mechanical power on the other end. These devices, in general, may not be particularly efficient but they have very few moving parts, are astonishingly reliable, and can operate at virtually any scale. [Andrew] has been thinking big, many of his application ideas are architectural in nature.

[Andrew] was inspired to enter his design for The Hackaday Prize, and we’re glad he did because it was selected as one of the finalists in the Power Harvesting Challenge, and will be in the running for the $50,000 Grand Prize. If you also have an idea waiting for an opportunity to shine, now is the time. The Human-Computer Interface Challenge is up next, followed by the Musical Instrument Challenge. All you really need to enter is a documented concept, so sharpen your pencils and give your idea a shot at reaching the next level.

Micro-Organisms Give Up the Volts in this Biological Battery

Battery cells work by chemical reactions, and the fascinating Hybrid Microbial Fuel Cell design by [Josh Starnes] is no different. True, batteries don’t normally contain life, but the process coughs up useful electrons all the same; 1.7 V per cell in [Josh]’s design, to be precise. His proof of concept consists of eight cells in parallel, enough to give his cell phone a charge via a DC-DC boost converter. He says it’s not known how long this can be expected to last before the voltage drops to an unusable level, but it works!

Eight-cell, 3D printed proof of concept.

There are two complementary sides to each cell in [Josh]’s design. On the cathode side are phytoplankton; green micro algae that absorb carbon dioxide and sunlight. On the anode side are bacteria that break organic material (like food waste) into nitrates, and expel carbon dioxide. Version 2 of the design will incorporate a semi-permeable membrane between the cells that would allow oxygen and carbon dioxide to be exchanged while keeping the populations of micro-organisms separate; this would make the biological processes more complementary.

A battery consisting of 24 cells and a plumbing system to cycle and care for the algae and bacteria is the ultimate goal, and we hope [Josh] can get closer to that now that his project won a $1000 cash prize as one of the twenty finalists in the Power Harvesting Challenge portion of the Hackaday Prize. (Next up is the Human Computer Interface Challenge, just so you know.)

Building A Gasometer To Store Wood Gas And Other Bio-Fuels

Old solutions are often so elegant and effective that they keep coming back. The gasometer, or gas holder, is one such example. Now [NightHawkInLight] has built one for storing the wood gas he’s been experimenting with, and it’s pretty neat to watch it rise and fall as he first adds gas and then burns it off. The mechanism couldn’t be simpler.

How a gasometer works

For those who, like us, are hearing about this low tech for the first time, gasometers are a means of safely storing gas stemming from the 1700s when gas was king and electricity was little more than a gentleman scientist’s pursuit. In its simplest form, it consists of a container of water with another container filled with gas sitting upside down in the water. Gas pressure is controlled by the weight of the gas-filled container and the water provides a seal, preventing the gas from escaping. Adding gas simply raises the gas-filled container, and removing or using gas lowers it. Simple, safe, and elegant.

We’ll leave the details of how he made his gasometer to the video below, but suffice it to say that his use of a double-walled gas pipe originally intended as a furnace chimney just adds more elegance to this whole hack.

[NightHawkInLight’s] cool projects have graced the pages of Hackaday before. For example, in the area of gas alone there’s his propane-powered plasma rifle, his transparent hybrid rocket engine, and his thermic lance which was hot enough to melt rocks.

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