New Part Day: Exotic Filament For RF Dielectric Structures

The world of microwave RF design appears to the uninitiated to be full of unimaginably exotic devices, as engineers harness the laws of physics to tame radio signals to their will. Among the weapons in their arsenal are materials of known dielectric properties, from which can be made structures with the desired effects on RF that encounters them. This has traditionally been a difficult and expensive process, but it’s one now made much easier by the availability of 3D printer filaments with a range of known dielectric values.

It’s best to think of the structures which can be designed using these materials as analagous to Fresnel lenses we’re all used to in the light domain. The example piece given by Microwave Journal is a metasurface for use in a steerable antenna, something that would be a much more difficult piece of work by more traditional means.

Normally when we inform you of a new special filament we’d expect it to be more costly than standard PLA, but this filament is in a class of its own at 275 euros per kilogram. So the interest for most readers will probably be more in the technology than the expectation of use, but even then we can see that there will still be microwave experimenters in our range who might be tempted by its unique properties. We look forward to what is developed using it.

Via Microwave Journal. Thanks to [Eric Mockler] for the tip!

Enjoy The Beauty Of Corona Discharge With This Kirlian Photography Setup

In our age of pervasive digital media, “pics or it didn’t happen” is a common enough cry that most of us will gladly snap a picture of pretty near anything to post online. So if you’re going to take a picture, it may as well be as stunning as these corona discharge photographs made with a homebrew Kirlian photography rig.

We know, Kirlian photography has a whole “woo-woo” vibe to it, associated as it has been with paranormal investigations and the like. But [Hyperspace Pirate] isn’t flogging any of that; in fact, he seems way more interested in the electronics of the setup than anything else. The idea with Kirlian photography is basically to capacitively couple a high-voltage charge across a dielectric, which induces an electrostatic discharge to a grounded object. The result is a beautiful purple discharge, thanks to atmospheric nitrogen, that outlines the object being photographed.

[Pirate]’s first attempt at a Kirlian rig used acrylic as a dielectric, which proved to be susceptible to melting. We found this surprising since we’ve seen [Jay Bowles] successfully use acrylic for his Kirlian setup. Version 2 used glass as a dielectric — right up until he tried to drill a fill port into the glass. (Important safety tip: don’t try to drill holes in tempered glass.) Version 3 used regular glass and a 3D-printed frame to make the Kirlian chamber; filled with saltwater and charged up with a homebrew Tesla coil, the corona discharge proved enough to char fingertips and ignite paper. It also gave some beautiful results, which can be seen starting at around the 7:40 mark in the video below.

We loved the photos, of course, but also appreciated the insights into the effects of inductance on the performance of this setup. And that first homebrew flyback transformer [Hyperspace Pirate] built was pretty cool, too.

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Homemade EDM Machine Moves From Prototype To Production

Of all the methods of making big pieces of metal into smaller pieces of metal, perhaps none is more interesting than electrical discharge machining. EDM is also notoriously fussy, what with having to control an arc discharge while precisely positioning the tool relative to the workpiece. Still, some home gamers give it a whirl, and we love to share their successes, like this work-in-progress EDM machine. (Video, embedded below.)

We’ve linked [Andy]’s first videos below the break, and we’d expect there will be a few more before all is said and done. But really, for being fairly early in the project, [Andy] has made a lot of progress. EDM is basically using an electric arc to remove material from a workpiece, but as anyone who has unintentionally performed EDM on, say, a screwdriver by shorting it across the terminals in a live outlet box, the process needs to be controlled to be useful.

Part 1 shows the start of the build using an old tap burning machine, a 60-volt power supply, and a simple pulse generator. This was enough to experiment with the basics of both the mechanical control of electrode positioning, and the electrical aspects of getting a sustained, useful discharge. Part 2 continues with refinements that led very quickly to the first useful parts, machined quickly and cleanly from thin stock using a custom tool. We’ll admit to being impressed — many EDM builds either never get to the point of making simple holes, or stop when progressing beyond that initial success proves daunting. Of course, when [Andy] drops the fact that he made the buttons for the control panel on his homemade injection molding machine, one gets the feeling that anything is possible.

We’re looking forward to more on this build. We’ve seen a few EDM builds before, but none with this much potential.

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Fail Of The Week: How Not To Watercool A PC

To those who choose to overclock their PCs, it’s often a “no expense spared” deal. Fancy heat sinks, complicated liquid cooling setups, and cool clear cases to show off all the expensive guts are all part of the charm. But not everyone’s pockets are deep enough for off-the-shelf parts, so experimentation with cheaper, alternatives, like using an automotive fuel pump to move the cooling liquid, seems like a good idea. In practice — not so much.

The first thing we thought of when we saw the title of [BoltzBrain]’s video was a long-ago warning from a mechanic to never run out of gas in a fuel-injected car. It turns out that the gasoline acts as a coolant and lubricant for the electric pump, and running the tank dry with the power still applied to the pump quickly burns it out. So while [BoltzBrain] expected to see corrosion on the brushes from his use of water as a working fluid, we expected to see seized bearings as the root cause failure. Looks like we were wrong: at about the 6:30 mark, you can see clear signs of corrosion on the copper wires connecting to the brushes. It almost looks like the Dremel tool cut the wire, but that green copper oxide is the giveaway. We suspect the bearings aren’t in great shape, either, but that’s probably secondary to the wires corroding.

Whatever the root cause, it’s an interesting tour inside a common part, and the level of engineering needed to build a brushed motor that runs bathed in a highly flammable fluid is pretty impressive. We liked the axial arrangement of the brushes and commutator especially. We wonder if fuel pumps could still serve as a PC cooler — perhaps changing to a dielectric fluid would do the trick.

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Shoot The Moon With This Homebrew Hardline RF Divider

You can say one thing for [Derek]’s amateur radio ambitions — he certainly jumps in with both feet. While most hams never even attempt to “shoot the Moon”, he’s building out an Earth-Moon-Earth, or EME, setup which requires this little beauty: a homebrew quarter-wave hardline RF divider, and he’s sharing the build with us.

For background, EME is a propagation technique using our natural satellite as a passive communications satellite. Powerful, directional signals can bounce off the Moon and back down to Earth, potentially putting your signal in range of anyone who has a view of the Moon at that moment. The loss over the approximately 770,000-km path length is substantial, enough so that receiving stations generally use arrays of high-gain Yagi antennas.

That’s where [Derek]’s hardline build comes in. The divider acts as an impedance transformer and matches two 50-ohm antennas in parallel with the 50-ohm load expected by the transceiver. He built his from extruded aluminum tubing as the outer shield, with a center conductor of brass tubing and air dielectric. He walks through all the calculations; stock size tubing was good enough to get into the ballpark for the correct impedance over a quarter-wavelength section of hardline at the desired 432-MHz, which is in the middle of the 70-cm amateur band. Sadly, though, a scan of the finished product with a NanoVNA revealed that the divider is resonant much further up the band, for reasons unknown.

[Derek] is still diagnosing, and we’ll be keen to see what he comes up with, but for now, at least we’ve learned a bit about homebrew hardlines and EME. Want a bit more information on Moon bounce? We’ve got you covered.

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Simple Acrylic Plates Make Kirlian Photography A Breeze

We know, we know – “Kirlian photography” is a term loaded with pseudoscientific baggage. Paranormal researchers have longed claimed that Kirlian photography can explore the mood or emotional state of a subject through the “aura”, an energy field said to surround and emanate from all living things. It’s straight-up nonsense, of course, but that doesn’t detract from the beauty of plasma aficionado [Jay Bowles]’ images produced by capacitive coupling and corona discharge.

Technically, what [Jay] is doing here is not quite Kirlian photography. The classic setup for “electrophotography” is a sandwich of photographic film, a glass plate, and a metal ground plate. An object with a high-voltage, high-frequency power supply attached is placed on top of the sandwich, and the resulting corona discharge exposes the film. [Jay]’s version is a thin chamber made of two pieces of solvent-welded acrylic and filled with water. A bolt between the acrylic panes conducts current from a Tesla coil – perhaps this one that we’ve featured before – into the water. When something is placed on the acrylic, a beautiful purple corona discharge streams out from the object.

It’s an eerie effect, and it’s easy to see how people can see an aura and attribute mystical properties to it. In the end, though, it’s not much different than touching a plasma globe, and just about as safe. Feeling a bit more destructive? Corona discharge is a great way to make art, both in wood and in acrylic.

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[Ben Krasnow] Makes A DSKY

There are hundreds if not thousands of artifacts from the Apollo program scattered around the globe, some twisted wrecks at the bottom of the ocean, others lovingly preserved and sitting in museums or in the hands of private collectors. All of what’s left is pretty much pure unobtainium, so if you want something Apollo-like, you’re probably going to have to make it yourself.

[Ben Krasnow] took up the challenge to make an electroluminescent Apollo-era DSKY display from scratch, with outstanding results. The DSKY, or “display and keyboard”, was the user interface for the Apollo Guidance Computer, the purpose-built digital navigation system that got a total of 24 men there and back again. [Ben] says it took a long time to recreate the display, and we can see why. He needed to master quite a few skills, including screen printing to get the glass-panel display working. The panel is a sandwich of phosphorescent paint, a dielectric, and conductive ink. The ink is silkscreened on the back to form the characters, all applied to indium tin oxide (ITO) conductive glass. A PCB with the same pattern of character segments lays behind that, driving each segment with 300 volts or so through a trio of HV507 high-voltage shift registers. It’s an impressive bit of engineering and gives off a decidedly not-homebrew vibe.

In the video below, [Ben] goes into detail about the trials he experienced on the way to this amazing endpoint, not least of which was frying chip after chip due to ineffective protection diodes in the shift registers. That’s an epic debugging story that’s worth the price of admission all by itself. It’s not the only DSKY in town, of course – [Fran Blanche] has been working on one for a while too – but there’s just something about that blue glow that we really like.

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