Drive A Plasma Ball With An ATV Ignition Coil And A 555

[Discrete Electronics Guy] sends in his short tutorial on building a high voltage power supply from simple things.

The circuit is a classic, but we love the resourcefulness shown. The ignition coil comes from a three wheeler, the primary power supply is a ATX supply from a computer and the oscillator is powered by a 9V battery. We do wonder whose vehicle stopped working though.

He gives a great explanation of how the circuit works and was constructed and then moves on to build his own Plasma bulb. Despite expecting something more complicated the end result was achieved by putting a lightbulb on a stick. Fantastic. The circuitry was nearly packaged into a takeaway food container and the entire construction was called complete.

All in all it shows what someone can accomplish if they’re resourceful and understand the basics. However, it’s probably that you don’t electroBoom yourself to death if you can avoid it.

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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Build Your Own Plasma Ball

The simple plasma ball – it graces science museums and classrooms all around the world. It shares a place with the Van de Graaf generator, with the convenient addition of spectacular plasma rays that grace its spherical surface. High voltage, aesthetically pleasing, mad science tropes – what would make a better DIY project?

For some background, plasma is the fourth state of matter, often created by heating a neutral gas or ionizing the gas in a strong electromagnetic field. The availability of free electrons allows plasma to conduct electricity and exhibit different properties from ordinary gases. It is also influenced by magnetic fields in this state and can often be found in electric arcs.

[Discrete Electronics Guy] built a plasma bulb using the casing from an old filament bulb and an ignition coil connected to a high voltage power supply. The power supply is based on the 555 timer IC. It uses a step-up transformer (the ignition coil) driven by a square wave oscillator circuit at a high frequency working as AC voltage. The square wave signal boosts the current into the power transistor, increasing its power.

The plasma is produced inside the bulb, which contains inactive noble gases. When touching the surface of the bulb, the electric arc flows to the point of contact. The glass medium protects the skin from burning, but the transparency allows the plasma to be seen. Pretty cool!

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Tiny Cube Hosts A Hearty Tube

Tiny PCBAs and glowy VFD tubes are like catnip to a Hackaday writer, so when we saw [hamster]’s TubeCube tube segment driver we had to dig in to learn more. We won’t bury the lede here; let’s enjoy a video of glowing tubes before we go further:

The TubeCube is built to fit the MiniBadge badge addon standard, which is primarily used to host modules on the SAINTCON conference badge. A single TubeCube hosts a VFD tube, hardware to provide a 70 V supply, and a microcontroller for communication and control. Each TubeCube is designed to accept ASCII characters via UART to display on it’s display, but they can also be chained together for even more excitement. We’re not sure how [hamster] would be able to physically wear the beast in the video above, but if he can find a way, they all work together. If you’re interested in seeing the dead simple UART communication scheme take a look at this file.

We think it’s also worth pointing about the high voltage supply. To the software or mechanically minded among us it’s easy to get trapped thinking about switching power supplies as a magical construct which can only be built using all-in-one control ICs. But [hamster]’s supply is a great reminder that a switching supply, even a high voltage one, isn’t as complex as all that. His design (which he says was cribbed from Adafruit’s lovely Ice Tube Clock) is essentially composed of the standard primitives. A big low voltage capacitor C1 to source the burst of energy which will be boosted, the necessary inductor/high voltage cap C2 which ends up at the target voltage, and a smoothing cap C3 to make the output a little nicer. It’s controlled by the microcontroller toggling Q1 to control the current flow through L1. The side effect is that by controlling the PWM frequency [hamster] can vary the brightness of the tubes.

Right now it looks like the repository has a schematic and sources, which should be enough to build a small tube driver of your own. If you can’t get enough TubeCubes, there’s one more video (of a single module) after the break.

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Make Your Own Plasma Cutter

Of all the tools that exist, there aren’t many more futuristic than the plasma cutter, if a modern Star Wars cosplay if your idea of futuristic. That being said, plasma cutters are a powerful tool capable of making neat cuts through practically any material, and there are certainly worst ways to play with high voltage.

Lucky enough, [Plasanator] posted their tutorial for how to make a plasma cutter, showing the steps through which they gathered parts from “old microwaves, stoves, water heaters, air conditioners, car parts, and more” in the hopes of creating a low-budget plasma cutter better than any on YouTube or from a commercial vendor.

The plasma cutter does end up working up quite an arc, with the strength to slice through quarter-inch steel “like a hot knife through butter”.

Its parts list and schematic divide the systems into power control, high current DC, low voltage DC, and high voltage arc start:

  • The power control contains the step down transformer and contactor (allows the DC components to come on line)
  • The high current DC contains the bridge rectifier, large capacitors, and reed switch (used as a current sensor to allow the high voltage arc to fire right when the current starts to travel to the head, shutting down the high voltage arc system when it’s no longer necessary)
  • The low voltage DC contains the power switch, auto relays, 12V transformer, 120V terminal blocks, and a terminal strip
  • The high voltage arc start contains the microwave capacitor and a car ignition coil

At the cutting end, 13A is used to cut through quarter-inch steel. Considering the considerably high voltage cutter this is, a 20 A line breaker is needed for safety.

Once the project is in a more refined state, [Plasanator] plans on hiding components like the massive capacitors and transformer behind a metal or plastic enclosure, rather than have them exposed. This is mainly for safety reasons, although having the parts exposed is evocative of a steampunk aesthetic.

In several past designs, stove coils were used as current resistors and a Chevy control module as the high voltage arc start. The schematic may have become more refined with each build, but [Plasanator]’s desire to use whatever components were available certainly has not disappeared.

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Mini-VFD Clock Floats The Display Above It All

As [sjm4306] says, “You can never have too many clocks based on obsolete display technologies.” We couldn’t agree more, and this single-tube VFD clock is one we haven’t seen before.

The vacuum-fluorescent display that [sjm4306] chose to base this clock on is the IV-21, an eight-digit seven-segment display on the smallish side. The tube is Russian surplus from the ’80s, as all such displays seem to be. The main PCB sports an ATMega328, a boost converter to provide the high voltage needed to run the VFD, a real-time clock, and the driver chip for the tube segments. The tube itself lives on a clever riser card that elevates the display above the main PCB and puts it at the proper angle for reading. [sjm4306] designed it to be modular; should you want to user a bigger VFD you need only make a new riser PCB. Figuring out the proper way to space the through-holes in Eagle proved elusive, but he hacked a solution using a spreadsheet to handle the trigonometry and spit out Cartesian coordinates for each hole. Pretty neat. The video below shows the clock assembly and a test.

We really like the look of this clock for some reason – perhaps it’s the quirky nature of the VFD, or the soft teal glow of the digits. We’ve featured plenty of clocks with odd displays before: VFDs large and small, faux-NIMO, de-encapsulated LED “filaments”, and lots and lots of Nixies.

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Subaru Coils Make A Great HV Power Source

High-voltage experimenters are a unique breed. They’re particularly adept at scrounging for parts in all kinds of places, and identifying how to put all manner of components to use in the service of the almighty arc. [Jay] is one such inventor, and recently came across a useful device from Subaru.

The device in question is an ignition coil from the Subaru Outback. It consists of a pair of high-voltage transformers, connected together, in a wasted-spark setup to run four-cylinder engines. Having sourced the part from a friend, [Jay] realised that with some modification, it would make a great high-voltage power source.┬áThe first job was to figure out how to remove the internal electronics that drive the transformers. In this case, it was a simple job of hacking off a chunk of the case, removing the interfering hardware. With this done, it’s possible to directly access the transformer connections.

In [Jay]’s experiments, the device is run in an anti-parallel configuration, to produce higher than normal voltages at the output. In various tests, it’s demonstrated running from both a classic 555 circuit, as well as a ZVS driver. For future projects, [Jay] intends to use this setup to drive a large voltage multiplier, also noting it can be used with Tesla coils and plasma balls with the right additional hardware.

While [Jay] doesn’t include any specific model numbers, reports are that these coils are readily available in a variety of 1990s and 2000s Subaru vehicles. Others have used similar hardware to create high voltage projects, too – this stun gun is a great example. Video after the break.

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