AC-DC Converter Is Reliable, Safe, And Efficient

When first starting an electronics project, it’s not uncommon to dive right in to getting the core parts of the project working. Breadboarding the project usually involves working with a benchtop power supply of some sort, but when it comes to finalizing the project the actual power supply is often glossed over. It’s not a glamorous part of a project or the part most of us want to be working with, but it’s critical to making sure projects don’t turn up with mysterious issues in the future. We can look to some others’ work to simplify this part of our projects, though, like this power supply from [hesam.moshiri].

The power supply is designed around a switch-mode topology known as a flyback converter. Flyback converters work by storing electrical energy in the magnetic field of a transformer when it is switched on, and then delivering that energy to the circuit when it is switched off. By manipulating the switching frequency and turns ratios of the transformer, the circuit can have an arbitrary output voltage. In this case, it is designed to take 220V AC and convert it to 8V DC. It uses a simplified controller chip to decrease complexity and parts count, maintains galvanic isolation for safety, and is built to be as stable as possible within its 24W power limitation to eliminate any potential issues downstream.

For anyone trying to track down electrical gremlins in a project, it’s not a bad idea to take a long look at the power supply first. Any noise or unwanted behavior here is likely to cause effects especially in projects involving sensors, ADC or DAC, or other low-voltage or sensitive components. The schematic and bill of materials are available for this one as well, so anyone’s next project could use this and even make slight adjustments to change the output voltage if needed. And, if this is your first introduction to switched-mode power supplies, check out this in-depth look at the similar buck converter circuit to better understand what’s going on behind the scenes on these devices.

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2023 Hackaday Prize: The Primordial Soup’s On With This Modified Miller-Urey Experiment

It’s a pretty sure bet that anyone who survived high school biology has heard about the Miller-Urey experiment that supported the hypothesis that the chemistry of life could arise from Earth’s primordial atmosphere. It was literally “lightning in a bottle,” with a mix of gases like methane, ammonia, hydrogen, and water in a closed-loop glass apparatus and a pair of electrodes to provide a spark to simulate lightning lancing across the early prebiotic sky. [Miller] and [Urey] showed that amino acids, the building blocks of protein, could be cooked up under conditions that existed before life began.

Fast forward 70 years, and Miller-Urey is still relevant, perhaps more so as we’ve extended our reach into space and found places with conditions similar to those on early Earth. This modified version of Miller-Urey is a citizen science effort to update the classic experiment to keep up with those observations, plus perhaps just enjoy the fact that it’s possible to whip up the chemistry of life from practically nothing, right in your own garage. Continue reading “2023 Hackaday Prize: The Primordial Soup’s On With This Modified Miller-Urey Experiment”

Real Radar Scope CRT Shows Flights Using ADS-B

Real-time flight data used to be something that was only available to air traffic controllers, hunched over radar scopes in darkened rooms watching the comings and goings of flights as glowing phosphor traces on their screens. But that was then; now, flight tracking is as simple as pulling up a web page. But where’s the fun in that?

To bring some of that old-school feel to his flight tracking, [Jarrett Cigainero] has been working on this ADS-B scope that uses a real radar CRT. As you can imagine, this project is pretty complex, starting with driving the 5FP7 CRT, a 5″ round-face tube with a long-persistence P7-type phosphor. The tube needs about 7 kV for the anode, which is delivered via a homebrew power supply complete with a custom flyback transformer. There’s also a lot going on with the X-Y deflection amps and beam intensity control.

The software side has a lot going on as well. ADS-B data comes from an SDR dongle using dump1090 running on a Raspberry Pi 3B. The latitude and longitude of each plane within range — about 5 nautical miles — is translated to vector coordinates, and as the “radar” sweeps past the location, a pip lights up on the scope. And no, you’re not seeing things if you see two colors in the video below; as [TubeTime] helpfully explains, P7 is a cascade phosphor that initially emits a bright-blue light with some UV in it, which then charges up a long-persistence green phosphor.

Even though multicolored icons and satellite imagery may be more useful for flight tracking, we really like the simple retro look [Jarrett] has managed to pull off here, not to mention the hackery needed to do it.

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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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Plasma Discharges Show You Where The Radiation Is

Depending on the context of the situation, the staccato clicks or chirps of a Geiger counter can be either comforting or alarming. But each pip is only an abstraction, an aural indication of when a particle or ray of ionizing radiation passed through a detector. Knowing where that happened might be important, too, under the right circumstances.

While this plasma radiation detector is designed more as a demonstration, it does a pretty good job at localizing where ionization events are happening. Designed and built by [Jay Bowles], the detector is actually pretty simple. Since [Jay] is the type of fellow with plenty of spare high-voltage power supplies lying around, he took a 6 kV flyback supply from an old build and used it here. The detector consists of a steel disk underneath a network of fine wires. Perched atop a frame of acrylic and powered by a 9 V battery, the circuit puts high-voltage across the plate and the wires. After a substantial amount of tweaking, [Jay] got it adjusted so that passing alpha particles from a sample of americium-241 left an ionization trail between the conductors, leading to a miniature lightning bolt.

In the video below, the detector sounds very similar to a Geiger counter, but with the added benefit of a built-in light show. We like the way it looks and works, although we’d perhaps advise a little more caution to anyone disassembling a smoke detector. Especially if you’re taking apart Soviet-era smoke alarms — you might get more than you bargained for.

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In-Depth Design Of A Flyback Converter

It is tempting to think of analogue and digital domains as entirely distinct, never to touch each other except like a cold war Checkpoint Charlie, through the medium of an ADC or DAC. In reality there are plenty of analogue effects upon digital circuitry which designers must be aware of, but there is one field in which the analogue and the digital are intricately¬† meshed. Switch mode power supplies use digital techniques to exploit the analogue properties of components such as inductors and capacitors, and can be astoundingly clever in the way they do this to extract the last fraction of a percent efficiency from their conversion. Thus their design can be something of a Dark Art, so it’s always interesting to have a good read explaining some of the intricacies. [James Wilson] has built a flyback step-up converter to power Nixie tubes, and his write-up follows the whole process in great depth.

This type of converter seems at first glance to be a simple step-up design with a transformer that has a primary and secondary, where in fact it relies on the collapse in magnetic field during the off period of its duty cycle to provide a spike in voltage and thus a step-up beyond that you’d expect from the transformer alone. The write-up takes us through all this starting from a theoretical perspective, and then goes further into the realm of component selection and the effects of component properties on the waveforms involved. If you have ever battled ringing in a switch mode power supply you may recognise some of this.

If this field interests you, then there is probably no better place to send you for a start than Jim Williams’ 1987 app note 25 for Linear Technology: “Switching Regulators for Poets“.

Fail Of The Week: Toilets And High Voltage Do Not Mix

Imagine if you will that you are enthroned upon the porcelain, minding your own business while doing your business. You’re catching up on Hackaday on your phone – c’mon, admit it – when a whir and a buzz comes from behind you. You sit up in alarm, whereupon your lower back suddenly feels as if someone is scrubbing it with a steel wool pad. Then the real pain sets in as super-hot plasma lances into your skin, the smell of burning flesh fills the bathroom, and you crack your head on the towel bar trying to escape this torture chamber in a panic.

Sound good? Then [Vije Miller]’s plasma-powered toilet air freshener is a must-build for you. We’re not entirely sure where this was going, but the name of the project seems to indicate a desire to, ahem, clear the air near your derri√®re with the power of ions. While that might work – we’ve recently seen an electrostatic precipitator for 3D-printer fumes – the implementation here is a bit sketchy. The ball of steel wool? It was possibly intended as a way to disperse the ions, but it served as nothing more than fuel when touched by the plasma. The Contact-esque gimballed rings? Not a clue what they’re for, but they look cool. And hats off to [Vije] for the intricate 3D-printed parts, the geartrain and linkages, and the DIY slip rings.

It may be a head-scratcher of a build, but the video below is entertaining. Check out some of [Vije]’s other projects of dubious value, like his licorice launcher or the smartphone back scratcher.

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