Make A Cheap Muon Detector Using Cosmicwatch

A little over a year ago we’d written about a sub $100 muon detector that MIT doctoral candidate [Spencer Axani] and a few others had put together. At the time there was little more than a paper on arxiv.org about it. Now, a few versions later they’ve refined it to the level of a kit with full instructions for making your own under the banner, CosmicWatch including PCB Gerber files for the two surface mount boards you’ll need to assemble.

What’s a muon? The Earth is under constant bombardment from cosmic rays, most of them being nuclei expelled from supernova explosions. As they collide with nuclei in our atmosphere, pions and kaons are produced, and the pions then decay into muons.  These muons are similar to electrons, having a +1 or -1 charge, but with 200 times the mass.

This pion-to-muon decay happens higher than 10 km above the Earth’s surface. But the muons have a lifetime at rest of 2.2 μs. This means that the number of muons peak at around 10 km and decrease as you go down. A jetliner at 30,000 feet will encounter far more muons than will someone at the Earth’s surface where there’s one per cm2 per minute, and the deeper underground you go the fewer still. This makes them useful for inferring altitude and depth.

How does CosmicWatch detect these muons? The working components of the detector consist of a plastic scintillator, a silicon photomultiplier (SiPM), a main circuit board which does signal amplification and peak detection among other things, and an Arduino nano.

As a muon passes through the scintillating material, some of its energy is absorbed and re-emitted as photons. Those photons are detected by the silicon photomultiplier (SiPM) which then outputs an electrical signal that is approximately 0.5 μs wide and 10-100 mV. That’s then amplified by a factor of 6. However, the amplified pulse is too brief for the Arduino nano and so it’s stretched out by the peak detector to roughly 100 μs. The Arduino samples the peak detector’s output and calculates the original pulse’s amplitude.

Their webpage has copious details on where to get the parts, the software and how to make it. However, they do assume you can either find a cheap photomultiplier somewhere or buy it in quantities of over 100 brand new, presumably as part of a school program. That bulk purchase makes the difference between a $50 part and one just over $100. But being skilled hackers we’re sure you can find other ways to save costs, and $150 for a muon detector still isn’t too unreasonable.

Detecting muons seems to have become a thing lately. Not too long ago we reported on a Hackaday prize entry for a detector that uses Russian Geiger–Müller Tubes.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Dynamometer for Post Stroke Rehabilitation

For those who have suffered a stroke, recovery is a long and slow process that requires rehabilitation to start as early as possible. Quite often, secondary stroke attacks complicate matters. Spasticity — muscle contraction and paresis — muscular weakness, are two of the many common after-effects of stroke. Recovery involves doing repeated exercises to strengthen the muscles and bring back muscle memory. Benchmarking progress becomes difficult when caregivers are only able to use qualitative means such as squeezing tennis balls to monitor improvement. To help provide quantitative measurements in such cases, [Sergei V. Bogdanov] is building a Dynamometer for Post-Stroke Rehabilitation. It is an Open Source, 4-channel differential force gauge for measuring and logging the progress of the patient. The device measures, graphs, and logs the force exerted by the four fingers when they push down on the four force gauges.

The device consists of four strain gauges obtained from cheap kitchen scales. The analog outputs from these are fed to HX-711 24-bit ADC boards. An Arduino Nano processes the data and displays it on two banks of eight-digit LED modules. [Sergei] also experimented with a 20×4 character LCD in place of the LED display. In the standalone mode, the device can only indicate the measured forces on the LED (or LCD) display which is calibrated to display either numerical values or a logarithmic scale. When connected to a serial port and using the (Windows only) program, it is possible to not only view the same information but also save it at regular, set intervals. The data can also be viewed in graphical form.

The project page provides links to their Arduino code, Windows monitor program as well as build instructions. Check out the related assistive technology project that [Sergei] is working on — A Post Stroke Spasticity Rehab Helper.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Post Stroke Spasticity Rehab Helper

A stroke is caused when poor blood flow to the brain causes cell damage, causing that part of the brain to stop functioning. Common causes are either blood vessel blockage or internal bleeding, and effects depend on the part of the brain that is affected. In most cases, spasticity (muscle contraction), poor motor control and the inability to move and feel are common after effects. Recovery is often a long, slow process and involves re-learning the affected lost skills. This is where physical therapy using assistive technologies becomes important. Rehabilitation must start as early as possible since the first few weeks are critical for good recovery. [Sergei V. Bogdanov] is building a cheap and simple Post-Stroke Spasticity Rehab Helper to address this problem.

He’s using ten hobby micro servos connected to an Arduino Nano, all mounted on a kitchen chopping board, with a few other bits thrown in to round out the build. There’s one pair of servos for each finger. A five bar linkage converts the servo rotations to two-dimensional motion. The end of the linkage has a swiveling metallic disk. Patient fingers are attached to these discs via magnetic metal pads that are attached to the end of the fingers using adhesive plaster tape. Two push buttons cycle through a large number of exercise modes and two potentiometer’s help adjust the speed and smoothness (the number of points calculated for the desired motion). Two 7-segment LED display modules connected to the Arduino provides a visual interface showing program modes, speed, number of cycles and other relevant information. Replicating the project ought to be very straightforward since the device uses off-the-shelf parts which are easy to put together using the detailed build instructions, photos and code posted on [Sergei]’s project page. Check out the videos below to see the rehab helper in action.

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Super simple controller for Motorcycle LED lights

For automobiles, especially motorcycles, auxiliary lighting that augments the headlights can be quite useful, particularly when you need to drive/ride through foggy conditions and poorly lit or unlit roads and dirt tracks. Most primary lighting on vehicles still relies on tungsten filament lamps which have very poor efficiency. The availability of cheap, high-efficiency LED modules helps add additional lighting to the vehicle without adding a lot of burden on the electrical supply. If you want to add brightness control, you need to either buy a dimmer module, or roll your own. [PatH] from WhiskeyTangoHotel choose the latter route, and built a super simple LED controller for his KLR650 bike.

He chose a commonly available 18 W light bar module containing six 3 W LEDs. He then decided to build a microcontroller based dimmer to offer 33%, 50% and 100% intensities. And since more code wasn’t going to cost him anything extra, he added breathing and strobe modes. The hardware is as barebones as possible, consisting of an Arduino Nano, linear regulator, power MOSFET and control switch, with a few discretes thrown in. The handlebar mounted control switch is a generic motorcycle accessory that has two push buttons (horn, headlight) and a slide switch (turn indicators). One cycles through the various brightness modes on the pushbutton, while the slide switch activates the Strobe function. A status indicator LED is wired up to the Nano and installed on the handlebar control switch. It provides coded flashes to indicate the selected mode.

It’s a pity that the “breathing” effect is covered under a patent, at least for the next couple of years, so be careful if you plan to use that mode while on the road. And the Strobe mode — please don’t use it — like, Ever. It’s possible to induce a seizure which won’t be nice for everyone involved. Unless you are in a dire emergency and need to attract someone’s attention for help.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: CPAP Humidifier Monitor Alarm

CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machines can be life-changing for people with sleep apnea. [Scott Clandinin] benefits from his CPAP machine and devised a way to improve his quality of life even further with a non-destructive modification to monitor his machine’s humidifier.

With a CPAP machine, all air the wearer breathes is air that has gone through the machine. [Scott]’s CPAP machine has a small water reservoir which is heated to humidify the air before it goes to the wearer. However, depending on conditions the water reservoir may run dry during use, leading to the user waking up dried out and uncomfortable.

To solve this in a non-invasive way that required no modifications to the machine itself, [Scott] created a two-part device. The first part is a platform upon which the CPAP machine rests. A load cell interfaced to an HX711 Load Cell Amplifier allows an Arduino Nano to measure the mass of the CPAP machine plus the integrated water reservoir. By taking regular measurements, the Arduino can detect when the reservoir is about to run dry and sound an alarm. Getting one’s sleep interrupted by an alarm isn’t a pleasant way to wake up, but it’s much more pleasant than waking up dried out and uncomfortable from breathing hot, dry air for a while.

The second part of the device is a simple button interfaced to a hanger for the mask itself. While the mask is hung up, the system is idle. When the mask is removed from the hook, the system takes measurements and goes to work. This makes activation hassle-free, not to mention also avoids spurious alarms while the user removes and fills the water reservoir.

Non-invasive modifications to medical or other health-related devices is common, and a perfect example of nondestructive interfacing is the Eyedriveomatic which won the 2015 Hackaday Prize. Also, the HX711 Load Cell Amplifier has an Arduino library that was used in this bathroom scale refurb project.

Making a Coil Gun Without Giant Caps

Whenever we see a coil gun project on the Internet, it seems to involve a bank of huge capacitors. [miroslavus] took a different approach with his gun–he wanted his project to be built without those monster caps.

It’s powered by quadcopter LiPo batteries, 2x 1400 MaH drone batteries wired up in series and triggering 21SWG copper coils that [miroslavus] created with the help of a custom 3D-printed winding rig he designed. The rigs have ridges to help you lay the coils down neatly, and they also have mounts for photodiodes, ensuring the gun knows when it’s loaded.

When triggered, the Arduino Nano activates a pair of IRF3205 MOSFETS with logic signals stepped up to 20V, shooting lengths of 7mm or 8mm steel rod. The gun isn’t exactly creating plasma discharges with its launches, but it’s a fascinating project nonetheless.

Check out the disposable camera coil gun project and the coil guns for newbies posts we previously ran.

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DIY VT220 Keyboard

There’s always been interest in the computers of old, and people love collecting and restoring them. When [peterbjornx] got his hands on a DEC VT220 video terminal, it was in good shape – it needed a bit of cleaning, but it also needed a keyboard. [Peter] couldn’t afford to buy the keyboard, but the service manual for it was available, so he decided to convert a modern keyboard to work with his new terminal.

The original keyboard for the VT220 is the LK201. This keyboard communicates with the terminal using 8-N-1 (eight data bits, no parity, one stop bit) over RS232 at 4800 baud. This meant that it would be pretty simple to implement this on microcontroller in order to communicate with the terminal. [Peter] chose the Arduino Nano. However, the LK200 was more than just a keyboard for communicating with the terminal, it also housed a speaker and LEDs which the terminal used to communicate with the user. Rather than put these into the adapter unit, [Peter] decided to put these into the keyboard – a few holes and a bit of wiring, and they were in.

[Peter]’s write-up includes a description of some of the issues he encountered as well as a picture of the keyboard. He’s put the schematic online and the code up on GitHub. In case you were wondering, he used Vim on the VT220 to write his article. You could also use a Raspberry Pi to help out your dumb terminal, or just hook the terminal directly to your Linux box and go from there.