Crystals are key to a lot of radio designs. They act as a stable frequency source and ensure you’re listening to (or transmitting on) exactly the right bit of the radio spectrum. [Q26] decided to use the ProgRock2 “programmable crystal” to build a receiver that could tune multiple frequencies without the usual traditional tuning circuitry.
The ProgRock2 is designed as a tiny PCB that can be dropped into a circuit to replace a traditional crystal. The oscillators onboard are programmable from 3.5KHz to 200 MHz, and can be GPS discliplined for accuracy. It’s programmable over a micro USB pot, and can be set to output 24 different frequencies, in eight banks of three. When a bank is selected, the three frequencies will be output on the Clock0, Clock1, and Clock2 pins.There was some confusion regarding the bank selection on the ProgRock2. It’s done by binary, with eight banks selected by grounding the BANK0, BANK1, and BANK2 pins. For example, grounding BANK2 and BANK0 would activate bank 5 (as 101 in binary equals 5). Once this was figured out, [Q26] was on top of things.
In his design, [Q26] hooked up the ProgRock2 into his receiver in place of the regular crystal. Frequency selection is performed by flipping three switches to select banks 0 to 7. It’s an easy way to flip between different frequencies accurately, and is of particular use for situations where you might only listen on a limited selection of amateur channels.
For precision use, we can definitely see the value of a “programmable crystal” oscillator like this. We’ve looked at the fate of some major crystal manufacturers before, too. Video after the break.
Continue reading “Building A Receiver With The ProgRock2 Programmable Crystal” →
The regular granular table salt you’re used to isn’t the most attractive-looking seasoning out there, even given its fundamentally compelling flavor. You don’t have to settle for boring old salt anymore though, because [Chase] has shown us you can grow your own pyramid salt crystals at home!
Pyramid salt crystals can grow naturally, and typically occur in locations where salt pools are undisturbed under the warmth of the sun. However, it’s possible to grow them on purpose, too. As a bonus, their hollow structure means they dissolve very quickly on the tongue, and can taste “saltier” than typical granular salt.
To grow your own, you’ll need a bag of salt, which is mixed with some water. You’ll want to do so in a glass dish, as the salty solution you’ll be making can ruin metal cookware. The dish can then be heated up on an electric hotplate, which is used to heat the solution to between 60 and 70°C.
A small amount of food-grade potassium alum is also added to the solution to calm the convection currents in the heated solution, allowing the crystals to form gently without sticking and clumping together. As the water boils away, the rectangular-pyramidal crystals grow.
Naturally, you must be careful before eating the results of any home-grown lab experiments. However, [Chase] reports having licked some of the crystals and has confirmed they do indeed taste salty. [Chase] also notes several ways in which the parameters can be changed to grow different types of pyramid crystals, too.
We’ve featured [Chase]’s crystal-growing work before. If you’ve got your own cool DIY crystal projects cooking up in the lab, be sure to let us know!
Most crystal radio receivers have a decidedly “field expedient” look to them. Fashioned as they often are from a few turns of wire around an oatmeal container and a safety pin scratching the surface of a razor blade, the whole assembly often does a great impersonation of a pile of trash whose appearance gives little hope of actually working. And yet work they do, usually, pulling radio signals out of thin air as if by magic.
Not all crystal sets take this slapdash approach, of course, and some, like this homebrew multiband crystal receiver, aim for a feature set and fit and finish that goes way beyond the norm. The “Husky” crystal set, as it’s called by its creator [alvenh], looks like it fell through a time warp right from the 1920s. The electronics are based on the Australian “Mystery Set” circuit, with modifications to make the receiver tunable over multiple bands. Rather than the traditional galena crystal and cat’s whisker detector, a pair of1N34A germanium diodes are used as rectifiers — one for demodulating the audio signal, and the other to drive a microammeter to indicate signal strength. A cat’s whisker is included for looks, though, mounted to the black acrylic front panel along with nice chunky knobs and homebrew rotary switches for band selection and antenna.
As nice as the details on the electronics are, it’s the case that really sells this build. Using quarter-sawn oak salvaged from old floorboards. The joinery is beautiful and the hardware is period correct; we especially appreciate the work that went into transforming a common flat washer into a nickel-plated escutcheon for the lock — because every radio needs a lock.
Congratulations to [Alvenh] for pulling off such a wonderful build, and really celebrating the craftsmanship of the early days of radio. Need some crystal radio theory before tackling your build? Check out [Greg Charvat]’s crystal radio deep dive.
Crystals, at least those hawked by new-age practitioners for their healing or restorative powers, will probably get a well-deserved eye roll from most of the folks around here. That said, there’s no denying that crystals do hold sway over us with the almost magical power of their beauty, as with these home-grown copper acetate crystals.
The recipe for these lovely giant crystals that [Chase Lean] shares is almost too simple — just scrap copper, vinegar, and a bit of hydrogen peroxide — and just the over-the-counter strength versions of those last two. The process begins with making a saturated solution of copper acetate by dissolving the scrap copper bits in the vinegar and peroxide for a couple of days. The solution is concentrated by evaporation until copper acetate crystals start to form. Suspend a seed crystal in the saturated solution, and patience will eventually reward you with a huge, shiny blue-black crystal. [Chase] also shares tips for growing crystal clusters, which have a beauty of their own, as do dehydrated copper acetate crystals, with their milky bluish appearance.
Is there any use for these crystals? Probably not, other than their beauty and the whole coolness factor of watching nature buck its own “no straight lines” rule. And you’ll no doubt remember [Chase]’s Zelda-esque potassium ferrioxalate crystals, or even when he turned common table salt into perfect crystal cubes.
When we talk about crystals around here, we’re generally talking about the quartz variety used to make oscillators more stable, or perhaps ruby crystals used to make a laser. We hardly ever talk about homegrown crystals, though, and that’s a shame once you see how easy it is to make beautiful crystals from scratch.
We’ve got to say that we’re impressed by the size and aesthetics of the potassium ferrioxalate crystals [Chase Lean] makes with this recipe, and Zelda fans will no doubt appreciate their resemblance to green rupees. The process starts with rust, or ferric oxide, which can either be purchased or made. [Chase] chose to make his rust by soaking steel wool in a solution of saltwater and peroxide and heating the resulting sludge. A small amount of ferric oxide is added to a solution of oxalic acid, a commonly used cleaning and bleaching agent. Once the rust is dissolved, potassium carbonate is slowly added to the solution, turning it a bright green.
The rest of the process happens more or less naturally, as crystals begin to form in the saturated solution. And boy, did they grow — long, prismatic lime-green crystals, with a beautiful clarity and crisp edges and facets. The crystals don’t last long under light, though — they quickly lose their clarity and become a more opaque green.
[Chase]’s crystal-growing efforts have shown up here before, when he turned humble table salt into beautiful cubic crystals. We find the whole crystal-growing process fascinating, and we’re looking forward to more of this in the future.
Were it not for the thin sheath of water and carbon-based life covering it, our home planet would perhaps be best known as the “Silicon World.” More than a quarter of the mass of the Earth’s crust is silicon, and together with oxygen, the silicate minerals form about 90% of the thin shell of rock that floats on the Earth’s mantle. Silicon is the bedrock of our world, and it’s literally as common as dirt.
But just because we have a lot of it doesn’t mean we have much of it in its pure form. And it’s only in its purest form that silicon becomes the stuff that brought our world into the Information Age. Elemental silicon is very rare, though, and so getting appreciable amounts of the metalloid that’s pure enough to be useful requires some pretty energy- and resource-intensive mining and refining operations. These operations use some pretty interesting chemistry and a few neat tricks, and when scaled up to industrial levels, they pose unique challenges that require some pretty clever engineering to deal with.
Continue reading “Mining And Refining: Pure Silicon And The Incredible Effort It Takes To Get There” →
Plenty of areas around the world don’t get any snowfall, so if you live in one of these places you’ll need to travel to experience the true joy of winter. If you’re not willing to travel, though, you could make some similar ice crystals yourself instead. While this build from [Brian] aka [AlphaPhoenix] doesn’t generate a flurry of small ice crystals, it does generate a single enormous one in a very specific way.
The ice that [Brian] is growing is created in a pressure chamber that has been set up specifically for this hexagonal crystal. Unlike common ice that is made up of randomly arranged and varying crystals frozen together, this enormous block of ice is actually one single crystal. When the air is pumped out of the pressure chamber, the only thing left in the vessel is the seed crystal and water vapor. A custom peltier cooler inside with an attached heat sink serves a double purpose, both to keep the ice crystal cold (and growing) and to heat up a small pool of water at the bottom of the vessel to increase the amount of water vapor in the chamber, which will eventually be deposited onto the crystal in the specific hexagonal shape.
The build is interesting to watch, and since the ice crystal growth had to be filmed inside of a freezer there’s perhaps a second hack here which involved getting the camera gear set up in that unusual environment. Either way, the giant snowball of an ice crystal eventually came out of the freezer after many tries, and isn’t the first time we’ve seen interesting applications for custom peltier coolers, either.
Continue reading “Growing The World’s Largest Snowflake” →