Most people think these toys operate like a simple steam engine, with water being flashed into steam inside a tiny tin boiler. Turns out that’s not the case. To explain the physics, [Steve] commissioned a glass version of the boat.
The glass boat shows that during normal operation, there isn’t any water at all in the “boiler” at all. The water is only in the boat’s small exhaust tubes. The air inside the tank is heated by a candle. The air expands and pushes the water out of the tubes. This allows the air to cool, and return to the tank. The water then rushes back up the tubes, and the process repeats.
One of the more interesting facts of the video is that the glass boat doesn’t pop. The popping sound associated with the boat is actually made by the tin diaphragm on top of the “boiler”.
[Steve] has gotten pretty good at explaining complex topics using clear cutaway models. If this tickles your fancy, check out his water computer.
The Stirling external combustion engine has fascinated gear heads since its inception, and while the technology has never enjoyed widespread commercialization, there’s a vibrant community of tinkerers who build and test their own takes on the idea. [Leo Fernekes] has been working on a small Stirling engine made from 3D printed parts and common hardware components, and in his latest video he walks viewers through the design and testing process.
We’ve seen Stirling engines with 3D printed parts before, but in most cases, they are just structural components. This time, [Leo] really wanted to push what could be done with plastic parts, so everything from the water jacket for the cold side of the cylinder to the gears and connecting rods of the rhombic drive has been printed. Beyond the bearings and rods, the most notable non-printed component is the stainless steel spice shaker that’s being used as the cylinder.
Mating the hot metal cylinder to the 3D printed parts naturally introduced some problems. The solution [Leo] came up with was to design a toothed collar to hold the cylinder, which reduces the surface area that’s in direct contact. He then used a piece of empty SMD component feed tape as a insulator between the two components, and covered the whole joint in high-temperature silicone.
Like many homebrew Stirling engines, this one isn’t perfect. It vibrates too much, some of the internal components have a tendency to melt during extended runs, and in general, it needs some fine tuning. But it runs, and in the end, that’s really the most important thing with a project like this. Improvements will come with time, especially once [Leo] finishes building the dynamometer he hopes will give him some solid data on how the engine’s overall performance is impacted as he makes changes.
Modern internal combustion engines have around 500 parts, with many of them moving in concert with the piston. But have you seen an engine with only one moving part, out of four in total? In the thermoacoustic engine, the power piston is the only part in motion. [YTEngineer] has built a very simple prototype that works on power provided by a tealight.
His little engine, slightly larger than a cigarette lighter, is composed of a test tube that serves as the cylinder, a smaller tube, called the choke, that fits inside the test tube, the stack, which is nothing more than some steel wool, and the power piston. [YTEnginer] nicely explains how the engine works: basically a temperature difference is used to induce high-amplitude sound waves that create the piston’s back-and-forth movement. The engine can be easily converted to an electricity generator by adding a magnet to the piston and a coil surrounding it.
In the early years of the nineteenth century, steam engines were at work in a variety of practical uses. However, they were still imperfect in many ways. One particular problem were the boilers, that had a tendency to explode, causing injuries and fatalities. Reverend Dr. Robert Stirling, a Scottish clergyman, was concerned about the death toll from exploding boilers. Based on previous work by George Cayley (known for his pioneering work on aeronautics), Stirling filed his patent for a safer engine in 1816. That makes this year the bicentenary of this engine. The Stirling engine has the highest theoretical efficiency of any thermal engine. It is also a relatively simple machine. Unlike other types of engines, there are no valves, and that makes the mechanical design much simpler.
Nitinol is a kind of wire that has a memory. If you heat it, it tries to return to the shape it remembers. [Latheman666] recently posted a video (see below) of a Nitinol engine that uses a temperature differential to generate motion.
[Dr. Alfred Johnson] holds a patent on this kind of motor. The concept sounds simple enough. A Nitnol spring shrinks in hot water and expands in cold. The spring is looped over two pulleys. One pulley is geared so it has mechanical advantage over the other one so that there’s a net torque which moves the hot part of the spring towards the cold side, and feeds more cold spring into the hot water. The cold spring then contracts and the entire process starts again.
We haven’t entirely gotten our heads around the gearing, but it seems plausible. On the other hand, this video was posted on April 1. What say you, Hackaday Commenteers?
Looking for a cool science experiment to do with the kids? Why not build a type of heat engine that resembles a sunflower? [Steve] from Rimstar.org shows us how!
It’s actually a pretty ingenious little project. Using metal foil scraps from a coffee bag, [Steve] created a perfectly balanced wheel that looks kind of like a sunflower. When the foil petals come close to heat they try to expand, but much like a bimetal strip, the materials making up the packaging expand at different rates to straighten the heated petal. This moves the center of gravity of the wheel off-axis, causing a rotation. As the wheel spins, the foil petal cools off, and another one is heated, creating continual movement — at least until the heat supply is taken away!
It’s a lot of work to get the balance just right, but thanks to an ingenious axle design it’s pretty easy to make adjustments. The wheel actually floats on a nail with its point stuck to a magnet, and the other end is suspended by a series of magnets. It’s pretty much as close to a friction free axle as you can get!