An Improved Spectrometer, No Lasers Required

Here at Hackaday, we love it when someone picks up the ball from a previous project and runs with it. That’s what we’re all about, really — putting out cool projects that just might stimulate someone else to extend and enhance it, or even head off in an entirely new direction. That’s how the state of the art keeps moving.

This DIY spectrometer project is a fantastic example of that ethos. It comes to us from [Michael Prasthofer], who was inspired by [Les Wright]’s PySpectrometer, a simple device cobbled together from a pocket spectroscope and a PiCam. As we noted at the time, [Les] put a lot of the complexity of his instrument in the software, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t room for improvement.

[Michael]’s goals were to make his spectrometer a little easier to build, and to improve the calibration process and overall accuracy. To help with the former, he went with software correction of the color filter array on his Fuji X-T2. This has the advantage of not requiring a high-power laser and precision micropositioner to ablate the CFA, and avoids potentially destroying an expensive camera. For the latter, [Michael] delved deep into the theory behind spectroscopy and camera optics to develop a process for correlating the intensity of light along the spectrum with the specific wavelength at that location. He also worked a little machine learning into the process, training a network to optimize the response functions.

The result is pretty accurate spectra with no lasers required for calibration. The video below goes into a lot of detail and ends up being a good introduction to some of the basics of spectroscopy, along with the not-so-basics.

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Optical Tweezers Investigate Tiny Particles

No matter how small you make a pair of tweezers, there will always be things that tweezers aren’t great at handling. Among those are various fluids, and especially aerosolized droplets, which can’t be easily picked apart and examined by a blunt tool like tweezers. For that you’ll want to reach for a specialized tool like this laser-based tool which can illuminate and manipulate tiny droplets and other particles.

[Janis]’s optical tweezers use both a 170 milliwatt laser from a DVD burner and a second, more powerful half-watt blue laser. Using these lasers a mist of fine particles, in this case glycerol, can be investigated for particle size among other physical characteristics. First, he looks for a location in a test tube where movement of the particles from convective heating the chimney effect is minimized. Once a favorable location is found, a specific particle can be trapped by the laser and will exhibit diffraction rings, or a scattering of the laser light in a specific way which can provide more information about the trapped particle.

Admittedly this is a niche tool that might not get a lot of attention outside of certain interests but for those working with proteins, individual molecules, measuring and studying cells, or, like this project, investigating colloidal particles it can be indispensable. It’s also interesting how one can be built largely from used optical drives, like this laser engraver that uses more than just the laser, or even this scanning laser microscope.

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An acousto-optic tunable filter and laser

Acousto-Optic Filter Uses Sound To Bend Light

We all know that light and sound are wave phenomena, but of very different kinds. Light is electromechanical in nature, while sound is mechanical. Light can travel through a vacuum, while sound needs some sort of medium to transmit it. So it would seem that it might be difficult to use sound to modify light, but with the right equipment, it’s actually pretty easy.

Easy, perhaps, if you’re used to slinging lasers around and terms like “acousto-optic tunable filter” fall trippingly from your tongue, as is the case for [Les Wright]. An AOTF is a device that takes a radio frequency input and applies it to a piezoelectric transducer that’s bonded to a crystal of tellurium oxide. The RF signal excites the transducer, which vibrates the TeO2 crystal and sets up a standing wave within it. The alternating bands of compressed and expanded material within the crystal act like a diffraction grating. Change the excitation frequency, and the filter’s frequency changes too.

To explore the way sound can bend light, [Les] picked up a commercial AOTF from the surplus market. Sadly, it didn’t come with the RF driver, but no matter — a few quick eBay purchases put the needed RF generator and power amplifier on his bench. The modules went into an enclosure to make the driver more of an instrument and less of a one-off, with a nice multi-turn pot and vernier knob for precise filter adjustment. It’s really kind of cool to watch the output beam change colors at the twist of a knob, and cooler still to realize how it all works.

We’ve been seeing a lot of [Les]’ optics projects lately, from homemade TEA lasers to blasting the Bayer filter off a digital camera, each as impressive as the last! Continue reading “Acousto-Optic Filter Uses Sound To Bend Light”

Pi-Based Spectrometer Puts The Complexity In The Software

Play around with optics long enough and sooner or later you’re probably going to want a spectrometer. Optical instruments are famously expensive, though, at least for high-quality units. But a useful spectrometer, like this DIY Raspberry Pi-based instrument, doesn’t necessarily have to break the bank.

This one comes to us by way of [Les Wright], whose homebrew laser builds we’ve been admiring for a while now. [Les] managed to keep the costs to a minimum here by keeping the optics super simple. The front end of the instrument is just a handheld diffraction-grating spectroscope, of the kind used in physics classrooms to demonstrate the spectral characteristics of different light sources. Turning it from a spectroscope to a spectrometer required a Raspberry Pi and a camera; mounted to a lens and positioned to see the spectrum created by the diffraction grating, the camera sends data to the Pi, where a Python program does the business of converting the spectrum to data. [Les]’s software is simple by complete, giving a graphical representation of the spectral data it sees. The video below shows the build process and what’s involved in calibrating the spectrometer, plus some of the more interesting spectra one can easily explore.

We appreciate the simplicity and the utility of this design, as well as its adaptability. Rather than using machined aluminum, the spectroscope holder and Pi cam bracket could easily be 3D-printer, and we could also see how the software could be adapted to use a PC and webcam.

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Interference Patterns Harnessed For Optical Logic Gates

The basics of digital logic are pretty easy to master, and figuring out how the ones and zeroes flow through various kinds of gates is often an interesting exercise. Taking things down a level and breaking the component AND, OR, and NOR gates down to their underlying analog circuits adds some complexity, but the flow of electrons is still pretty understandable. Substitute all that for photons, though, and you’ll enter a strange world indeed.

At least that’s our take on [Jeroen Vleggaar]’s latest project, which is making logic gates from purely optical components. As he himself admits in the video below, this isn’t exactly unexplored territory, but his method, which uses constructive and destructive interference, seems not to have been used before. The basic “circuit” consists of a generator, a pair of diffraction patterns etched into a quartz plate, and an evaluator, which is basically a pinhole in another plate positioned to coincide with the common focal point of the generator patterns. An OR gate is formed when the two generators are hit with in-phase monochromatic light. Making the two inputs out of phase by 180° results in an XOR gate, as destructive interference between the two inputs prevents any light from making it out of the evaluator.

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A Beginner’s Guide To X-Ray Crystallography

In graduate school, I had a seminar course where one of the sections was about X-ray crystallography. I was excited, because being able to discern the three-dimensional structure of macromolecules just by shining X-rays on them seemed like magic to me. And thanks to a lackluster professor, after the section it remained just as much of a mystery.

If only I’d had [Steve Mould] as a teacher back then. His latest video does an outstanding job explaining X-ray crystallography by scaling up the problem considerably, using the longer wavelength of light and a macroscopic target. He begins with a review of diffraction patterns, those alternating light and dark bands of constructive and destructive interference that result when light shines on two closely spaced slits — the famous “Double-Slit Experiment” that showed light behaves both as a particle and as a wave and provided our first glimpse of quantum mechanics. [Steve] then doubled down on the double-slit, placing another pair of slits in the path of the first. This revealed a grid of spots rather than alternating bands, with the angle between axes dependent on the angle of the slit pairs to each other.

 

To complete the demonstration, [Steve] then used diffraction to image the helical tungsten filament of an incandescent light bulb. Shining a laser through the helix resulted in a pattern bearing a striking resemblance to what’s probably the most famous X-ray crystallogram ever: [Rosalind Franklin]’s portrait of DNA. It all makes perfect sense, and it’s easy to see how the process works when scaled down both in terms of the target size and the wavelength of light used to probe it.

Hats off to [Steve] for making something that’s ordinarily complex so easily understandable, and for filling in a long-standing gap in my knowledge.

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Measure Laser Wavelength With A CD And A Tape Measure

Obviously the wavelength of a laser can’t be measured with a scale as large as that of a carpenter’s tape measure. At least not directly and that’s where a Compact Disc comes in. [Styropyro] uses a CD as a diffraction grating which results in an optical pattern large enough to measure.

A diffraction grating splits a beam of light up into multiple beams whose position is determined by both the wavelength of the light and the properties of the grating. Since we don’t know the properties of the grating (the CD) to start, [Styropyro] uses a green laser as reference. This works for a couple of reasons; the green laser’s properties don’t change with heat and it’s wavelength is already known.

It’s all about the triangles. Well, really it’s all about the math and the math is all about the triangles. For those that don’t rock out on special characters [Styropyro] does a great job of not only explaining what each symbol stands for, but applying it (on camera in video below) to the control experiment. Measure the sides of the triangle, then use simple trigonometry to determine the slit distance of the CD. This was the one missing datum that he turns around and uses to measure and determine his unknown laser wavelength.

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