A modern recreation of von Guericke's electrostatic generator

Electrostatic Generator Project Starts With Molten Sulfur

Although the basic concept of electrostatic attraction has been known since ancient times, it was only in the 17th century that scientists began to systematically investigate electrostatics. One of the first to explore this new field was Otto von Guericke, who constructed an electrostatic generator to help with his experiments. [Markus Bindhammer] has reconstructed this machine, which formed the basis for later work by the likes of Wimshurst and Van de Graaff. [Markus] kept his machine in an almost period-correct fashion.

Von Guericke’s machine consists of a sulfur ball mounted on a spindle that allows it to be rotated and rubbed against a piece of cloth. By doing so, the ball gains a charge that can be used to attract small pieces of material. [Markus] built a neat wooden frame with faux-antique carved legs and installed a handle, a spindle, and a belt-drive system to rotate whatever’s mounted on the spindle at high speed.

A round-bottom flask containing sulfur being heated in an oil bathAll of this is beautifully documented in [Markus]’s video, but by far the most interesting part of his project is the process of manufacturing the sulfur ball. If you’ve always wanted one, here’s how to make one: first, melt some pieces of pure sulfur in a round-bottom flask using an oil bath. Then, turn on your vacuum pump to remove any air or water vapor trapped inside the liquid. Once the liquid is nice and clear, let it cool down and solidify very slowly; the sulfur ball can then be released from its container by breaking the glass with a hammer.

While it sounds simple, we can imagine it took a bit of experimenting to get all those steps just right. The end result is a simple but useful machine to demonstrate basic electrostatics, which [Markus] is planning to use in science lectures. There are lots of interesting experiments you can do with static electricity, including building a basic motor.

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Bending Light To Fit Technology

Solar power is an excellent way of generating electricity, whether that’s for an off-grid home or for the power grid. With no moving parts maintenance is relatively low, and the downsides of burning fuel are eliminated as well. But as much as it’s revolutionized power generation over the last few decades, there’s still some performance gains to be made when it comes to the solar cells themselves. A team at Stanford recently made strides in improving cell efficiency by bending the properties of sunlight itself.

In order to generate electricity directly from sunlight, a photon with a specific amount of energy needs to strike the semiconductor material. Any photons with higher energy will waste some of that energy as heat, and any with lower energy won’t generate electricity. Previous methods to solve this problem involve using something similar to a prism to separate the light out into colors (or energies) that correlate to specific types of cells calibrated specifically for those colors. This method does the opposite: it changes the light itself to an color that fits the semiconductor material. In short, a specialized material converts the energy from two lower-energy photons into a single higher-energy photon, which then strikes the solar panel to create energy.

By adding these color-changing materials as a layer to a photovoltaic solar panel, the panel can generate more energy with a given amount of light than a traditional panel. The major hurdle, as with any research, is whether or not this will be viable when produced at scale, and this shows promise in that regard as well. There are other applications for these materials beyond photovoltaics as well, and the researchers provide an excellent demonstration in 3D printing. By adding these color-change materials to resin, red lasers can be used instead of blue or ultraviolet lasers to cure resin in extremely specific locations, leading to stronger and more accurate prints.

Aluminum Battery Is Sustainable

If you think of metals in a battery, you probably think of lithium, mercury, lead, nickel, and cadmium. But researchers in Australia and China want you to think about aluminum. Unlike most battery metals, aluminum is abundant and not difficult to dispose of later.

Their battery design uses water-based electrolytes and is air-stable. It is also flame retardant. The battery can provide 1.25V at a capacity of 110 mAh/g over 800 charge cycles. The idea of using aluminum in a battery isn’t new. Aluminum is potentially more efficient since each aluminum ion is equivalent to three lithium ions. The batteries, in theory, have higher energy density compared to lithium-ion, but suffer from short shelf life and, so far, practical devices aren’t that close to the theoretical limits of the technology.

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Scientists Call Out Apollo 17 After Investigating Moonquakes Past

In the vast realm of space exploration, new discoveries often emerge from old data. Thanks to advanced algorithms and keen observers, the seismic activities of our closest celestial neighbor, the Moon, have recently been thrust back into the limelight.

Thanks to the effort of the NASA crew involved in the Apollo 17 mission, it’s possible investigate these phenomena today with datasets from the past. Recently, researchers working with this data turned up some intriguing findings, and published them in a new paper. It reveals that one unexpected source of moonquakes could be the very equipment that Earth’s astronauts left behind. Continue reading “Scientists Call Out Apollo 17 After Investigating Moonquakes Past”

Multispectral Imaging Shows Erased Evidence Of Ancient Star Catalogue

Ancient Greek astronomer Hipparchus worked to accurately catalog and record the coordinates of celestial objects. But while Hipparchus’ Star Catalogue is known to have existed, the document itself is lost to history. Even so, new evidence has come to light thanks to patient work and multispectral imaging.

Hipparchus’ Star Catalogue is the earliest known attempt to record the positions of celestial bodies (predating Claudius Ptolemy‚Äôs work in the second century, which scholars believe was probably substantially based on Hipparchus) but direct evidence of the document is slim. Continue reading “Multispectral Imaging Shows Erased Evidence Of Ancient Star Catalogue”

A brass-and-wood replica of Faraday's motor

Replicating Faraday’s 200-Year-Old Electric Motor

Although new electric motor types are still being invented, the basic principle of an electric motor has changed little in the past century-and-a-half: a stator and a rotor built of magnetic materials plus a bunch of strategically-placed loops of wire. But getting even those basic ingredients right took a lot of experimentation by some of the greatest names in physics. Michael Faraday was one of them, and in the process became the first person to turn electricity into motion. [Markus Bindhammer] has recreated Faraday’s experiment in proper 19th century style.

Back in 1821, the very nature of electricity and its relation to magnetism were active areas of research. Tasked with writing an article about the new science of eletromagnetics, Faraday decided to test out the interaction between a current-carrying wire and a permanent magnet, in a setup very similar to [Markus]’s design. A brass wire is hanging freely from a horizontal rod and makes contact with a conductive liquid, inside of which a magnet is standing vertically. As an electric current is passed through the wire, it begins to rotate around the magnet, as if to stir the liquid.

[Markus]’s video, embedded after the break, shows the entire construction process. Starting from rods and sheet metal, [Markus] uses mostly hand tools to create all basic parts that implement the motor, including a neat knife switch. Where Faraday used mercury as the conductive liquid, [Markus] uses salt water – cheaper and less toxic, although it does eventually eat up the brass wire through electrolysis.

While not particularly useful in itself, Faraday’s motor proved for the first time that electric energy could be converted into motion through magnetism, leading to a whole class of ultra-simple motors called homopolar motors. It would be a while before experiments by the likes of Tesla and Ferraris led to modern AC motors. If you don’t like your motors magnetic, you can use electrostatics instead.

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Simulating A Real Perpetual Motion Device

Perpetual motion and notions of ‘free energy’ devices are some of those pseudo-science topics that seem to perpetually hang around, no matter how many times it is explained how this would literally violate the very fabric of the Universe. Even so, the very notion of a device which repeats the same action over and over with no obvious loss of energy is tempting enough that the laws of physics are employed to effect the impossible in a handy desktop format. This includes the intriguing model demonstrated by [Steve Mould] in a recent video, including a transparent version that reveals the secret.

This particular perpetual motion simulator is made by [William Le] and takes the form of metal balls that barrel down a set of metal rails which turn upward so that each metal ball will land back where it started in the top bowl. To the casual informed observer the basic principle ought to be obvious, with magnetism being a prime candidate to add some extra velocity to said metal ball. What’s less obvious is the whole mechanism that makes the system work, including the detection circuit and the tuning of the parameters that tell the device when its electromagnet should be on or off.

When [Steve] figured that he could just make a transparent version using the guts from the one he purchased, he quickly found out that even with [William]’s help, this wasn’t so easy. Ultimately [William] hand-crafted a transparent version that shows the whole system in its entire glory, even if this is somewhat like demonstrating a magic trick in an easy to follow manner.

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