High Voltage Power Supply From USB

Those who work in different spaces may have different definitions of the term “high voltage”. For someone working on the GPIO pins of a Raspberry Pi it might be as little as 5 volts, someone working on a Tesla coil might consider that to be around 20 kV, and an electrical line worker might not reference something as HV until 115 kV. What we could perhaps all agree on, though, is that getting 300 volts out of a USB power supply is certainly a “high voltage” we wouldn’t normally expect to see in that kind of context, but [Aylo6061] needed just such a power supply and was eventually able to create one.

In this case, the high voltages will eventually be used for electrophoresis or electrowetting. But before getting there, [Aylo6061] has built one of the safest looking circuits we’ve seen in recent memory. Every high voltage part is hidden behind double insulation, and there is complete isolation between the high and low voltage sides thanks to a flyback converter. This has the benefit of a floating ground which reduces the risk of accidental shock. This does cause some challenges though, as voltage sensing on the high side is difficult while maintaining isolation, so some clever tricks were implemented to maintain the correct target output voltage.

The control circuitry is based around an RP2040 chip and is impressive in its own right, with USB isolation for the data lines as well. Additionally the project code can be found at its GitHub page. Thanks to a part shortage, [Aylo6061] dedicated an entire core of the microprocessor to decoding digital data from the high voltage sensor circuitry. For something with a little less refinement, less safety, and a much higher voltage output, though, take a look at this power supply which tops its output voltage around 30 kV.

New Possibilities From Fading Lighting Technology

Like the incandescent bulb before it, the compact fluorescent (CFL) bulb is rapidly fading into obscurity as there are fewer and fewer reasons to use them over their LED successors. But there are plenty of things to do with some of the more interesting circuitry that made these relatively efficient light bulbs work, and [mircemk] is here to show us some of them.

Fluorescent bulbs require a high voltage to work properly, and while this was easy enough for large ceiling installations, it was a while until this hardware could be placed inside a bulb-sized package. When removed, the high voltage driver from the CFL is used in this case to drive a small inductive heating coil circuit, which can then be used to rapidly heat metals and other objects. After some testing, [mircemk] found that the electronics on the CFL circuit board were able to easily handle the electrical load of its new task.

When old technology fades away, there are often a lot of interesting use cases just waiting to be found. [mircemk] reports that he was able to find these light bulbs at an extremely low price due to low demand caused by LEDs, so anyone needing a high voltage driver board for something like a small Tesla coil might want to look at a CFL first.

Building A Plasma Piano Ain’t Easy

Electronic arcs can be made to “sing” if you simply modulate them on and off at audible frequencies. We’ve seen it done with single Tesla coils, and even small Tesla choirs, but [Mattias Krantz] took this to extremes by building an entire “plasma piano” using this very technique.

The build relies on ten transformers more typically used in cathode ray tubes. The transformers are capable of generating high enough voltages to create arcs in the air. The transformers are controlled by an Arduino, which modulates the arcs at musical frequencies corresponding to the keys pressed on the piano. Sensing the keys of the piano is achieved with a QRS optical sensor strip designed for performance capture from conventional pianos. For the peak aesthetic, the transformer outputs are connected to the metal hammers of the piano, and the arcs ground out on a metal plate in the back of the piano’s body. This lets arcs fly across the piano’s whole width as its played. Ten transformers are used to enable polyphony, so the piano to play multiple tones at once.

Building the piano was no mean feat for [Mattias], who admitted to having very limited experience with electronics before beginning the build. However, he persevered and got it working, while thankfully avoiding injury from high voltage in the process. This wasn’t easy, as Arduinos would regularly freeze from the noise produced by the arcs and the system would lose all control. However, with some smart software tweaks to the arc control and some insulating panels, [Mattias] was able to get the piano playable quite well with a beautiful chiptune tone.

It bears stating that HV work can be dangerous, and you shouldn’t try it at home without the proper understanding of how to do so safely. If you’re confident though, we’ve featured some great projects in this space before. Video after the break.

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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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Rŏ̽ta: Counting, With Style

Rǒta counts things. That’s it, really — what a cheap little mechanical counter does with a thumb press, or what you can do by counting on your fingers and toes, that’s pretty much all that Rǒta does. But it does it with style.

OK, that’s being a bit unfair to [Kevin Santo Cappuccio] — Rǒta has a few more tricks up its sleeve than simple counting. But really, those functions are just icing on the cake of how this little gadget looks. Rǒta was built around the unbeatable combination of a rotary telephone dial mechanism and a trio of Nixie tubes. The dial looks like it might have come from an old pay phone, all shiny and chrome and super robust looking. The Nixies sit atop the dial on a custom PCB, and everything, including the high-voltage supply for the tubes, is enclosed in a 3D printed case with a little bit of a Fallout vibe.

But what does this thing do? Actually, quite a lot. It’ll count up and down, using whatever number you dial into it. You can either increment from zero, or enter any three-digit number as the starting count. It keeps track of the score of your golf game, if that’s your thing, and it’s also got a stopwatch function. You can even dial up a display of the current battery voltage. It takes some ingenuity to use just the dial for all these functions, but that’s as easy as dialing the operator used to be — dialing 0 puts it in menu mode, allowing you to access any of the functions printed on the card in the center of the dial. It’s pretty clever — check out the video below.

Is it particularly useful? Perhaps not. But when has that ever been a measure of the worth of a project? Something like this rotary cellphone might be more useful, but sometimes looking great is good enough.

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Sputtering Daguerreotypes, Batman!

The Daguerreotype was among the earliest photographic processes, long before glass plates or film, that relied on sensitizing a thin layer of silver on top of a copper plate. The earliest Daguerreotype plates were made physically, by rolling a copper-silver plate thinner and thinner until the silver layer was just right. Good luck finding a source of Daguerreotype plates made this way in 2022. (There are electroplating methods, but they all end up with chemically contaminated silver.)

On the other hand, magnetron sputtering is a process of depositing pure metal in thin layers using plasma, high voltages, and serious magnets, and [Koji Tokura] is making his own sputtered Daguerreotype plates this way, giving him the best of both worlds: the surreal almost-holographic quality of the Daguerreotype with the most difficult film preparation procedure imaginable.

The star of the show is [Koji]’s sputtering rig, which consists of a Tupperware glass sandwich box as a vacuum chamber and a microwave oven transformer as the high voltage source. In use, he pumps the chamber down, introduces a small amount of argon, and then lights up the plasma. The high voltage accelerates the plasma ions into a sheet of silver, and the silver particles that get knocked free coat the copper plate. A strong magnet creates a local plasma, which accelerates the coating procedure, but since [Koji] only had a relatively small magnet, he scans the plate with the magnet, using a scavenged 2D pen plotter mechanism.

Check out his video on the Hackaday.io page, and his Daguerreotype gallery as well. (We don’t think that they were all made with this procedure.)

The result is a chemically pure Daguerreotype plate produced in a seriously modern way, and we’d love to see the images in person. In these days of disposable images made by the AIs in your cell phone, it’s nice to see some people taking photography in strange directions. For instance, maybe you’d like to make your own ultra-large collodion plates. Or something else? If you do, show us!

Atmospheric High-Voltage Motor Makes Useful Power

While it almost seems like an insane fever dream from an otherwise brilliant inventor, Nikola Tesla’s plan to harvest energy straight out of the atmosphere and essentially give it away is more reality than fiction. It’s usually prohibitively difficult get that energy out of the atmosphere for several obvious reasons, although it is still possible to do as [lasersaber] shows with his most recent atmospheric motor.

To help solve some of the logistical problems of harvesting electricity from the atmosphere, [lasersaber] is using a Van de Graaff generator as a stand-in for the high voltage gradient that can be found when suspending a long wire in the air. He has been experimenting with high-voltage motors like this for a while now and has refined his designs for corona discharge motors like these to be big enough and have enough torque to drive a drill bit. The motors have a conductive rotor with a series of discharge tubes on the stator, and exposing a metal point on the wiring (where the atmospheric wire would attach) to a sufficiently high voltage will cause rotation. In this case, it’s around 30,000 volts but with an extremely low current.

There are a number of videos documenting his latest build, including this follow-up video where he drills an arbitrarily large number of holes in various materials to demonstrate its effectiveness. Even though he is using a Van de Graaff generator in these builds, he does also show them working with a wire suspended by a drone as well for proof-of-concept. He’s also become somewhat of an expert on high-efficiency and low-power motors and has a number of other interesting builds based on these concepts.

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