Hydraulics Made Simple

Corralling electrons is great and what most of us are pretty good at, but the best projects have some kind of interface to the real world. Often, that involves some sort of fluid such as water or air moving through pipes. If you don’t grasp hydraulics intuitively, [Practical Engineering] has a video you’ll enjoy. It explains how flow and pressure work in pipes.

Granted, not every project deals with piping, but plumbing, sprinkler systems, cooling systems, and even robotics often have elements of hydraulics. In addition, as the video points out, fluid flow in a pipe is very similar to electrical current flowing through wires.

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Vintage Spectrometer Gets Modern Interface Upgrade

There’s plenty of specialised, high-end scientific equipment out there running on antique hardware and software. It’s not uncommon for old lab equipment to run on DOS or other ancient operating systems. When these expensive tools get put out to pasture, they often end up in the hands of hackers, who, without the benefit of manuals or support, may try and get them going again. [Jerry Biehler] is trying to do just that with a 740AD spectrometer, built by Optronic Laboratories in the 1990s.

Originally, the device shipped with a whole computer – a Leading Edge 386SX25 PC running DOS and Windows 3.0. The tools to run the spectrometer were coded in BASIC. Armed with the source code, [Jerry] was able to recreate the functionality in LabVIEW. To replace the original ISA interface board, an Advantech USB-4751 digital IO module was used instead, which dovetailed nicely with its inbuilt LabVIEW support.

With things back up and running, [Jerry] has put the hardware through its paces, testing the performance of some IR camera filters. Apparently, the hardware, or the same model, was once used to test the quantum efficiency of CCDs used on the Hubble Space Telescope.

Seeing old lab equipment saved from the scrap bin is great, but you can’t always rely on what you want being thrown out. In those cases, you’ve got to build your own from the ground up. Video after the break.

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Moving Things With Electricity

We use electricity to move things with the help of motors and magnets all the time. But if you have enough voltage, you can move things with voltage alone. As [James] found out, though, it works best if your objects — ping pong balls, in his case — are conductive.

He wanted to add a Van de Graaff generator to add to his “great ball machine” which already has some cool ways to move ping pong balls. However, to get the electrostatic motion, [James] had to resort to spraying the balls with RF shielding spray.

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Move Over Cesium Clock, Optical Clocks Are Taking Over

We normally think of atomic clocks as the gold standard in timekeeping. The very definition of a second — in modern times, at least — is 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of a stationary cesium-133 atom at a temperature of 0K. But there is a move to replace that definition using optical clocks that are 100 times more accurate than a standard atomic clock.

In recent news, the Boulder Atomic Clock Optical Network — otherwise known as BACON — compared times from three optical clocks and found that the times differed a little more than they had predicted, but the clocks were still amazingly accurate relative to each other. Some of the links used optical fibers, a method used before. But there were also links carried by lasers aimed from one facility to another. The lasers, however didn’t work during a snowstorm, but when they did work the results were comparable to the optical fiber method.

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How Fast Is The Universe Expanding? The Riddle Of Two Values For The Hubble Constant

In the last decades, our understanding of the Universe has made tremendous progress. Not long ago, “precision astronomy” was thought to be an oxymoron. Nowadays, satellite experiments and powerful telescopes on earth were able to measure the properties of our Universe with astonishing precision. For example, we know the age of the Universe with an uncertainty of merely 0.3%, and even though we still do not know the origin of Dark Matter or Dark Energy we have determined their abundance with a precision of better than 1%.

There is, however, one value that astronomers have difficulty in pinning down: how fast our universe is expanding. Or, more precisely, astronomers have used multiple methods of estimating the Hubble constant, and the different methods are converging quite tightly on two different values! This clearly can’t be true, but nobody has yet figured out how to reconcile the results, and further observations have only improved the precision, deepening the conflict. It’s likely that we’ll need either new astronomy or new physics to solve this puzzle.

The Discovery of the Expanding Universe

In the 1920s Edwin Hubble used the newly built telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory to study fuzzy objects known as nebulae. Back then, astronomers were arguing whether these nebulae are clouds of stars within our Milky Way or if they are whole different galaxies. Hubble discovered stars within these nebulae whose brightness slowly fades in and out. These were known as Cepheids and previously studied by Henrietta Levitt who showed that there was a tight relationship between the star’s intrinsic brightness and the period of its variation. This means Cepheids could be used as so-called standard candles which refers to objects whose absolute brightness is known. Since there is a simple relationship between how the brightness of an object decreases with distance, Hubble was able to calculate the distance of the Cepheids by comparing their apparent and intrinsic brightness. He showed that the Cepheid stars were not located within our galaxy and that nebulae are actually distant galaxies.

Hubble also measured the velocity at which these distant galaxies are moving away from us by observing the redshifts of spectral lines caused by the Doppler effect. He found that the further away the galaxy is located, the faster it is moving away from us described by a simple linear relationship.

\bf v = H_0 d

The parameter H0 is what is known as the Hubble constant. Later the Belgian priest and physicist Georges Lemaître realized that the velocity-distance relationship measured by Hubble was evidence for the expansion of the Universe. Since the expansion of space itself causes other galaxies to move away from us we are not in any privileged location but the same effect would be measured from any other place in the Universe. An effect that is sometimes illustrated by drawing points on a balloon, when it is inflated the points move away from each other at a speed that depends on their distance. It is also better not to think of the cosmological redshift as being caused by a real velocity as the parameter v in the above equation can easily exceed the speed of light. Continue reading “How Fast Is The Universe Expanding? The Riddle Of Two Values For The Hubble Constant”

How The LIGO Observatory Detects Gravitational Waves

Gravity is one of the more obvious forces in the universe, generally regarded as easily noticeable by the way apples fall from trees. However, the underlying mechanisms behind gravity are inordinately complex, and the subject of much study to this day.

A major component of this study is around the concept of gravitational waves. First posited by Henri Poincaré in 1905, and later a major component of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, they’re a phenomena hunted for by generations of physicists ever since. For the team at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, or LIGO, finding direct evidence of gravitational waves is all in a day’s work.

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A Mobius Strip Track For Superconductor Levitation

Superconductors are interesting things, though we don’t really rely on them for much in our day to day lives. They’d be supremely useful, if only they didn’t need to be so darned cold. While the boffins toil away in the lab on that problem however, there’s still some fun to be had, as demonstrated by the Möbius Strip levitation track at Ithaca College.  (Video, embedded below.)

The rig takes advantage of the fact that superconductors can levitate over magnets, and vice versa. Under certain conditions, the superconductor can even lock into position over a magnet, due to flux pinning, wherein flux “tubes” from the magnet’s field penetrate a superconductor and are pinned in place by currents in the superconductor. It’s an awe-inpsiring effect, with the superconducting material appearing to magically float at a locked height above the magnetic surface, quite distinct from traditional magnetic levitation.

Construction of the track wasn’t straightforward. Early attempts at producing a Möbius Strip twisted through 540 degrees were unsuccessful in steel. The team then switched tack, using a flexible plastic which was much more pliable. This was then covered in neodymium magnets to create the necessary field, and the resulting visual effect is one of a silver-bricked magnetic road.

It’s a great display, and one that quite intuitively demonstrates the concepts of both a Möbius Strip and superconducting levitation. If room-temperature semiconductors become a real thing, there’s every possibility this could become an always-on installation. It’s also the trick behind one of the coolest hoverboards we’ve ever seen. Video after the break.

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