Neon Lamps Light Up Dim Ion Motor

Small pinwheel type ion motors fall into the category of a fun science experiment or something neat to do with high voltage, but Hackaday’s own [Manuel Rodriguez-Achach] added a neat twist that incorporates neon lamps.

Normally you’d take a straight wire and make 90 degree bends at either end but pointing in opposite directions, balance it on a pole, and apply a high voltage with a moderate amount of current. The wire starts spinning around at the top of the pole, provided the ends of the wire are sharp enough or the wire has a small enough diameter. If your power supply has ample current available then in the dark you’ll even see a purplish glow, called a corona, at the tips of the wire.

[Manuel] made just such an ion motor but his power supply didn’t have the necessary current to produce a strong enough corona to be visible to his camera. So he very cleverly soldered neon lamps on the two ends of the wires. One leg of each lamp goes to the wire and the other end of the lamp acts as the sharp point left out in the air for emitting the ions.

The voltage needed across each lamp in order to ignite it is that between the high voltage power supply’s output and the potential of the surrounding air. That air may be initially at ground potential but he also bends the other output terminal of the power supply such that its tip is also up in the air. This way it sprays ions of the opposite polarity into the surrounding air.

Either way, the neon lamps light up and the wire spins around on the pole. Now, even without a visible corona, his ion motor makes an awesome display. Check it out in the video below.

For more about these ion motors, sometimes called electric whirls, check our article about all sorts of interesting non-electromagnetic motors.

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Practical Plasma for Thin-Film Deposition

[Nixie] wants to sputter. We know, who doesn’t? But [Nixie] has a specific purpose for his sputtering: thin-film deposition, presumably in support of awesome science. But getting to that point requires a set of tools that aren’t exactly off-the-shelf items, so he’s building out a DIY sputtering rig on the cheap.

If you’re not familiar with sputtering, that’s understandable. In this context, sputtering is a process that transfers particles from one solid to another by bombarding the first solid with some sort of energetic particles, usually electrons or a plasma. When properly controlled, sputtering has applications from mass spectrometry to the semiconductor industry, where it’s used to either deposit thin films on silicon wafers or etch them away selectively.

No matter the application, sputtering needs a stable stream of plasma. [Nixie] has posted a series of articles on his blog walking us through his plasma experiments, from pulling a really strong vacuum to building a high-voltage power supply from a microwave oven transformer. It’s a project that needs a deep well of skills and tools, like glassworking, machining, and high-voltage electronics. Check out the plasma in the video below.

Will [Nixie] be using this for a DIY fab lab? Will it be used to make homebrew LEDs? The world waits to hear.

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Building a Static Grass Applicator

A “Static Grass Applicator” is very specialized tool used by model makers to create realistic grass. Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know that, neither did we. Anyway, the idea is that you distribute a fine filament over the surface, and then use static electricity to make the “blades” of grass stand up vertically. This is a huge improvement over the old school method of manually placing the grass on the model, but the tool itself is somewhat expensive, at least for a decent one.

But thanks to avid modeler [Luke Towan], those looking to up their diorama game without breaking the bank now have a fantastically detailed guide on building their own grass applicator that is not only fairly cheap (as little as $20 USD depending on what your part bins look like), but is robust enough to last for years of service.

The heart of the device, and probably the only part you’d need to go out and buy especially for this project, is a small 12V negative ion generator. This is used to setup an electric charge between the grid of the applicator and a long wire that gets attached to the piece you’re working on. What little wiring there is simply provides a switch and some status LEDs. The design [Luke] has come up with lets the user switch between and internal 9V battery for portability, or an external 12V wall adapter for larger projects.

Building the chamber to hold the grass filament as well as the handle which houses the electronics will take longer than anything else, and even that seems pretty straightforward. Given the impressive results shown in the video after the break, it’s actually pretty surprising how simple the device is.

The setup used here reminds us of the DIY powder coating we covered a few years back.

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Nicely Engineered Boost Converter Powers Nixies from USB Charger

Love them or hate them, Nixies are here to stay. Their enduring appeal is due in no small part to the fact that they’re hardly plug-and-play; generating the high-voltage needed to drive the retro displays is part of their charm. But most Nixie power supplies seem to want 9 volts or more on the input side, which can make integrating them into the typical USB-powered microcontroller project difficult.

Fixing that problem is the idea behind [Mark Smith]’s 5-volt Nixie power supply. The overall goal is simple: 5 volts in, 170 volts out at 20 mA. But [Mark] paid special care to minimize the EMI output of the boost converter through careful design, and he managed to pack everything into a compact 14-cm² PCB. He subjected his initial design to a lot of careful experimentation to verify that he had met his design goals, and then embarked on a little tweaking mission in KiCad to trim the PCB’s footprint down by 27%. The three separate blog posts are well worth a read by anyone interested in learning about electronics design.

Now that [Mark] has his Nixie power supply, what will become of it? We can’t say for sure, but it’ll be a clock. It’s always a clock. Unless it’s a power meter or a speedometer.

Low-End Parts Make Tesla Coil with a High-End Look

We all know the saying: cheap, fast, or good — pick any two. That rule seems to apply across the spectrum of hackerdom, from software projects to hardware builds. But this DIY Tesla coil build might just manage to deliver on all three.

Cheap? [Jay Bowles]’ Tesla coil is based on a handheld bug zapper that you can find for a couple of bucks, or borrow from the top of the fridge in the relatively bug-free winter months. The spark gap is just a couple of screws set into scraps of nylon cutting board — nothing fancy there. Fast? Almost everything needed to build this is stuff lying around the house, and depending on the state of your junk bin you may not even have to order the polypropylene caps [Jay] recommends. Good? That’s a relative term, of course, and if you define it as a coil capable of putting out pumpkin-slaying lightning bolts or playing “Yakkity Sax”, you’ll likely be disappointed. But there’s no denying that this Tesla coil looks good, from its Lexan base to the door-pull top load. And running off a couple of AA batteries, it’s safe to use too.

[Jay] put a lot of care into winding and dressing the secondary coil neatly, and the whole thing would look great as a desktop toy. Not into the winding part? You can always etch a PCB Tesla coil instead.

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Catching 30 kilowatts with Thor’s Hammer

Can you really catch lightning with Mjolnir, the mythical hammer of Thor? If you’re [James Hobson] you can get pretty darn close. He’s a long time writer at Hackaday who’s been building an epic following on his YouTube channel by making the digital effects of blockbuster movies into practical effects. Today he released a video showing how he channeled a jolt of lightning with hammer held high.

The lightning source for this hack is a huge Tesla coil held overhead by a telescoping lift. Humans and high voltage mix poorly, which is why you can’t actually tell this is [James]. He’s wearing a full body suit of grounded chainmail which serves as a Faraday cage, safely directing the current around him to avoid a literally heart-stopping moment. Check out the antics in the video after the break.

Longtime readers will remember [Caleb Kraft’s] take on Mjolnir, a build that placed the Tesla coil in the hammer itself. [James]’ version is undeniably more impressive, with the tradeoff that it’s wholly unportable. While we’re on the topic of mythical hammers, our other most favorite build is the delightful prank build which makes the hammer unliftable except by the recognized owner.

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The Nixie Tube Killer That Never Was

With the wealth of Nixie projects out there, there are points at which Hackaday is at risk of becoming Nixieaday. Nixie clocks, Nixie calculators, Nixie weather stations, and Nixie power meters have all graced our pages. And with good reason – Nixie tubes have a great retro look, and the skills needed to build a driver are a cut above calculating the right value for a series resistor for an LED display.

But not everyone loved Nixies back in the day, and some manufacturers did their best to unseat the venerable cold cathode tubes. [Fran Blanche] came across one of these contenders, a tiny cathode ray tube called the Nimo, and after a long hiatus in storage, she decided to put the tube to the test. After detailing some of the history of the Nimo and its somewhat puzzling marketing — its manufacturer, IEE, was already making displays to compete with Nixies, and seven-segment LEDs were on the rise at the time — [Fran] goes into the dangerous details of driving the display. With multiple supply voltages required, including a whopping 1,700 V DC for the anode, the Nimo was anything but trivial to integrate into products, which probably goes a long way to explaining why it never really caught on.

If you happen to have one of these little bits of solid unobtanium, [Fran]’s video below will go a long way to bringing back its ghostly green glow. You might say that [Fran] has a thing for oddball technologies of the late 60s — after all, she’s recreating the Apollo DSKY electroluminescent display, and she recently helped a model Sputnik regain its voice.

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