Glass: Classic, But Mysterious

For a large part of human history, people made things from what they could find. Some stones make arrowheads. Others make sparks. Trees can turn into lumber. But the real power is when you can take those same materials and make them into something with very different properties. For example, plant fibers turning into cloth, or rocks giving up the metals inside. One of the oldest engineered materials is glass. You’d think as old as glass is (dating back at least 4,500 years), we’d understand all there is to know about it by now. According to an interesting post by [Jon Cartwright] writing in Physics World, we don’t. Not by a long shot.

According to [Jon] there are at least five “glassy mysteries” that we still don’t understand. Sure, it is easy to just melt sand, soda, and lime — something we’ve talked about before — but, in fact, many materials can turn glassy when cooled quickly from liquid to solid. The problem is, we don’t really understand why that happens. Continue reading “Glass: Classic, But Mysterious”

Watch A Complete Reflector Telescope Machined From A Single Block Of Glass

If this is the easy part of making a complete reflector telescope from a single piece of glass, we can’t wait to get a load of the hard part!

A little backstory may be in order for those who don’t follow [Jeroen Vleggaar]’s Huygens Optics channel on YouTube. A few months ago, he released a video discussing monolithic telescopes, where all the reflective and refractive surfaces are ground into a single thick block of glass. Fellow optical engineer [Rik ter Horst] had built a few tiny monolithic Schmidt-Cassegrain reflectors for use in cube sats, so [Jeroen] decided to build a scaled-up version himself.

The build starts with a 45 mm thick block of crown glass, from which a 50 mm cylinder is bored with a diamond hole saw. The faces of the blank are then ground into complex curves to reflect incoming light, first off the parabolic rear surface and then onto the hyperbolic secondary mirror ground into the center of the front face. A final passage through a refracting surface in the center of the rear face completes the photons’ journey through the block of glass, squeezing a 275 mm focal length into a compact package.

All this, of course, vastly understates the work required to pull it off. Between the calculations needed to figure out the surface shapes in the first place to the steps taken to machine a famously unforgiving material like glass, every step is fraught with peril. And because the design is monolithic, any mistakes mean starting all over again. Check out the video below and marvel at the skills needed to get results like this.

What strikes us most about [Jeroen]’s videos is the mix of high-tech and age-old methods and materials used in making optics, which we’ve seen him put to use to make everything from tiny Tesla valves to variable-surface mirrors.

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Stresses Revealed With A Polariscope

There are a lot of ways that stresses can show up, at least when discussing materials science. Cracks in concrete are a common enough example, but any catastrophic failure in a material is often attributable to some stress that couldn’t be withstood. If you’re interested in viewing those stresses before they result in damage to the underlying material, take a look at this DIY polariscope which can view internal stresses in glass and other clear objects.

The polariscope takes its name from the fact that it uses polarized light to view the internal structure of a transparent object such as glass. When the polarized light passes through glass in a certain way, the stresses show up as lighter areas thanks to the stressed glass bending the light back into view. This one is constructed with a polarizing filter placed in front of an LCD screen set to display a completely white image. When glass is placed between the screen and the filter no light is seen through the polariscope unless there are stresses in the glass. Even placing a force on an otherwise un-stressed glass tube can show this effect, and [Advanced Tinkering], this project’s creator, has several other creations which show this effect in striking detail.

The effect can also be observed as colored areas in other plastic materials as well. It’s an interesting tool which can help anyone who frequently works with glass, but it’s also interesting on its own to see clues left behind from the manufacturing process of various household items. We’ve seen some other investigative methods for determining how other household items are mass produced as well, like this project which breaks down the injection molding process.

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Glassblowing For The Lab

There was a time when ordering some glassware from a distributor meant making a sizable minimum order, sending a check in the mail and waiting weeks for a box full of — hopefully intact — glassware to arrive. In those days, blowing your own glassware from glass tubes was fairly common and [Wheeler Scientific] has been doing a series on just how to do that. Even if you aren’t interested in building a chemistry lab, you might find the latest episode on making a gas discharge tube worth a watch. There are several videos and you can see a few of them below.

Of course, blowing glass is literally playing with fire, so be careful. Most important rule? Don’t inhale. Then again, for a lot of things, blowing glass doesn’t involve you actually blowing, but it is more like bending and shaping and — technically — what he shows is lampwork, not actual glassblowing, but that’s a technicality.

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Tech In Plain Sight: Primitive Engineering Materials

It isn’t an uncommon science fiction trope for our hero to be in a situation where there is no technology. Maybe she’s back in the past or on a faraway planet. The Professor from Gilligan’s Island comes to mind, too. I’d bet the average Hacakday reader could do pretty well in that kind of situation, but there’s one thing that’s often overlooked: materials. Sure, you can build a radio. But can you make wire? Or metal plates for a capacitor? Or a speaker? We tend to overlook how many abstractions we use when we build. Even turning trees into lumber isn’t a totally obvious process.

People are by their very nature always looking for ways to use the things around them. Even 300,000 years ago, people would find rocks and use them as tools. It wasn’t long before they found that some rocks could shape other rocks to form useful shapes like axes. But the age of engineered materials is much younger. Whether clay, metal, glass, or more obviously plastics, these materials are significantly more useful than rocks tied to sticks, but making them in the first place is an engineering story all on its own.

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Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Radioactive Lenses

We think of radioactive material as something buried away in bunkers with bombs, power plants, and maybe some exotic medical equipment. But turns out, there are little bits of radiation in the water, our soil, bananas, granite countertops, smoke detectors, and even some camera lenses. Camera lenses? A few decades ago, camera companies added rare elements like thorium to their glass to change the optical properties in desirable ways. The downside? Well, it made the lenses somewhat radioactive.  A post by [lenslegend] explains it all.

Exotic elements such as Thorium, Lanthanum and Zirconium are added to glass mixtures to create the high refractive indexes necessary in sophisticated lens designs. Selection of premium quantities of glass from the large glass pots, stringent spectrophotometric tests after stress and strain checks provide the valuable raw glass for ultimate use in lens elements.
Konica Hexanon Lens Guide, Konica Camera Company, 1972

According to [lenslegend] the practice started in 1945 with Kodak. However, by the 1980s, consumer distaste for radioactive things and concern for factory workers ended the production of hot camera lenses.

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Tiny Tesla Valves Etched In Glass

While it’s in vogue right now to name fancy new technology after Tesla, the actual inventor had plenty of his own creations that would come to bear his namesake, including Tesla coils, Tesla oscillators, Tesla turbines and even the infamous Tesla tower. One of the lesser known inventions of his is the Tesla valve, a check valve that allows flow in one direction without any moving parts, and [Huygens Optics] shows us a method of etching tiny versions of these valves into glass.

The build starts out with a fairly lengthy warning, which is standard practice when working with hydroflouric acid. The acid is needed to actually perform the etching, but it’s much more complicated than a typical etch due to the small size of the Tesla valves. He starts by mixing a buffered oxide etch, a mix of the hydroflouric acid, ammonia, and hydrochloric acid, which gives a much more even etching than any single acid alone. Similar to etching PCBs, a protective mask is needed to ensure that the etch only occurs where it’s needed. For that there are several options, each with their own benefits and downsides, but in the end [Huygens Optics] ends up with one of the smallest Tesla valves ever produced.

In fact, the valves are so small that they can only be seen with the aid of a microscope. While viewing them under the microscope he was able to test with a small drop of water to confirm that they do work as intended. And, while the valves that he is creating in this build are designed to work on liquids, [Huygens Optics] notes that the reason for making them this small was to make tiny optical components which they are known for.

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