Mini Van De Graaff is a Shocking Desk Toy

The Van De Graff generator is a device capable of generating potentially millions of volts of electricity which you can build in an afternoon, probably from parts you’ve got in the junk bin. This is not a fact that’s escaped the notice of hackers for decades, and accordingly we’ve seen several Van De Graaff builds over the years. So has high voltage hacker [Jay Bowles], but he still thought he could bring something new to the table.

The focus of his latest build was to not only produce one of the most polished and professional versions of this venerable piece of high voltage equipment, but also make it accessible for others by keeping the design simple and affordable. The final result is a 40,000 volt Van De Graaff generator that’s powered by two AA batteries and can fit in the palm of your hand.

Put simply, a Van De Graaff generator creates static electricity from the friction of two metal combs rubbing against a moving belt, which is known as the triboelectric effect. The belt is stretched between the two combs and passes through an insulated tube, which serves to “pump” electrons from one side to the other. The end result is that a massive charge builds up on the positive side of the Van De Graaff generator, which is all too willing to send a spark firing off towards whatever negatively charged object gets close enough.

The video after the break guides viewers through the process of turning this principle into a practical device, illustrating how remarkably simple it really is. A common hobby motor is used to get the belt going, in this case just a wide rubber band, and the rest of the components are easily sourced or fabricated. Even for what’s arguably the most intricate element of the build, the combs themselves, [Jay] uses nothing more exotic than aluminum foil tape and a piece of stranded wire splayed out.

Combined with the acrylic base and the purpose-made metal sphere (rather than using a soda can or other upcycled object), the final result not only generates healthy sparks but looks good doing it. Though if the final fit and finish isn’t important, you could always build one out of stuff you found in the trash.

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High Voltage Measurement is Shockingly Safe

With the right equipment and training, it’s possible to safely work on energized power lines in the 500 kV range with bare hands. Most of us, though, don’t have the right equipment or training, and should take great care when working with any appreciable amount of voltage. If you want to safely measure even the voltages of the wiring in your house there’s still substantial danger, and you’ll want to take some precautions like using isolated amplifiers.

While there are other safe methods for measuring line voltage or protecting your oscilloscope, [Jason]’s isolated amplifier method uses high voltage capacitors to achieve isolation. The input is then digitized, sent across the capacitors, and then converted back to an analog signal on the other side. This project makes use of a chip from TI to provide the isolation, and [Jason] was able to build it on a perfboard while making many design considerations to ensure it’s as safe as possible, like encasing high voltage sections in epoxy and properly fusing the circuit.

[Jason] also discusses the limitations of this method of isolation on his site, and goes into a lot of technical details about the circuit as well. It probably wouldn’t get a UL certification, but the circuit performs well and even caught a local voltage sag while he was measuring the local power grid. If this method doesn’t meet all of your isolation needs, though, there are a lot of other ways to go about solving the problem.

Pint-sized Jacob’s Ladder Packs 10,000 Volts in a Pickle Jar

File this one away for your mad scientist costume next Halloween: [bitluni]’s Pocket Jacob’s Ladder is the perfect high voltage accessory for those folks with five dollars in parts, a 3D printer, and very big pockets.

[bitluni]’s video shows you all the parts you’ll need and guides you through the very simple build process. For parts, you’ll require a cheap and readily-available high-voltage transformer, a battery holder, some silver wire for the conductors, and a few other minor bits like solder and a power switch.

Once the electronics are soldered together, they’re stuffed inside a 3d printed case that [bitluni] designed with FreeCAD. The FreeCAD and STL files are all available on Thingiverse. We’re not sure what type of jar [bitluni] used to enclose the electrodes. If your jar isn’t a match, you’ll have to get familiar with FreeCAD or start from scratch with your favorite CAD package.

Either way, we enjoy the slight nod toward electrical safety and the reuse of household objects for project enclosures.

If you’re interested in a Jacob’s Ladder with significantly higher voltage we’ve got you covered, or we’ve also written about another tiny portable Jacob’s Ladder.

The full video is embedded after the break.

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You Should Not Try These Taser NERF Darts

For most of us, a good part of our childhood involved running around someone’s backyard (or inside the house) trying to score hits with a toy NERF gun. The fun level was high and the risk of personal injury was low. Now that we’re all mostly adults, it’s probably time to take our NERF game to the next level with some risk of serious personal harm.

In an effort to help his brother get back at him for being somewhat of a bully in their youth, [Allen Pan] gifted him with an upgraded NERF gun. Specifically, one with darts that pack a punch. Each of the “Elite” darts was equipped with a 300 V capacitor packed into the interior of the dart. New tips were 3D printed with special metal tips that allow the capacitor to discharge upon impact.

Besides the danger, there’s a good bit of science involved. Parts were scavenged from a new (and surprisingly expensive) disposable camera, and a customized circuit was constructed around the barrel of the dart gun that allows the darts to charge up when they’re loaded. It’s an impressive build that would be relatively simple to reconstruct for yourself, but it’s probably not the worst thing we’ve seen done with high voltage and a few small capacitors.

Thanks to [Itay] for the tip!

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Pocket High Voltage Generator Becomes Great Test Tool

[The LED Artist] often found a need for a relatively high voltage (100 to 200 Volt) but low current DC power supply, and it turns out that a small HV generator that uses a single AA cell only took about an hour to make. The device ended up being a pretty handy tool for testing things like LED filaments (which have a forward voltage of over 60 V), or even neon and nixie tubes.

The device’s low current means that nixie and neon elements won’t light up very brightly, but they will light up enough to verify function and operation. [The LED Artist] reports that touching the output terminals of the generator only causes a slight tingling sensation.

Open-circuit voltage generated from a single AA cell is about 200 V, but that voltage drops rapidly under any kind of load. Even regular LEDs can be safely lit with the circuit, with less than a milliamp being supplied at the two to three volts at which most regular LEDs operate.

[The LED Artist] fit the device into a two-AA battery holder, with a single AA cell on one side and the circuit in the other, and says it’s one of the more useful tools they’ve ever made. LED filaments are fairly common nowadays, but if they intrigue you, don’t forget that [Mike Harrison] covered everything you need to know about experimenting with them.

The Bells! The Bells! One Battery since 1840

It is good advice to change batteries in your fire alarms at least once a year. Even our low-power LCD calculators need new batteries from time to time. But at the University of Oxford, they have an electric bell that has been ringing essentially non-stop on one set of batteries for about 178 years! Is the energy crisis solved then? Perhaps not. The bells require a high voltage but very little current and the pair of batteries — piles in the parlance of 1840 — have kept the charge flowing for about 10 billion rings. As you can see in the video below, though, the ringing isn’t very vigorous.

How does it work? When you think of converting electrical power to mechanical motion you probably think of a motor, even though there are plenty of other transducers like speakers, muscle wires, and solenoids. Arguably the first device was electrostatic bells that were invented by a Scot named [Andrew Gordon] around 1742. [Ben Franklin] made them famous, though, so they are often called Franklin bells.

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Add Some Edge To Your Blades With Blown-Arc Plasma

If you polled science fiction fans on what piece of technology portrayed by the movies that they most desire, chances are pretty good that the lightsabers from the Star Wars franchise would be near the top of the list. There’s just something about having that much power in the palm of your hand and still needing to be up close and personal to fight with it. Plus being able to melt holes in bulkheads is pretty keen, as are the cool sounds.

Sadly, the day we can shape and contain plasma in a blade-shaped field is probably pretty far off, but that didn’t stop [Alan Pan] from trying the next best thing: a handheld plasma-projecting blade. He starts with a basic Jacob’s ladder. We’ve seen many of these before, but the basic idea is to ionize the air between two parallel, vertical conductors; the hot plasma heats the air causing it to rise until it reaches the top and snuffs itself out, starting the process over again at the bottom. His twist is to force the plasma into a sheet between the electrodes with air from a leaf blower, forming a blown-arc plasma. That’s pretty cool looking by itself, but he also stretched the electrodes along razor-sharp wood planer blades, for extra danger. We have to admit that the thing looks pretty intimidating, even if the plasma doesn’t really pack bulkhead-melting thermal power. Check out the results in the video below.

We’d love to see [Alan] make good on his promise to make the whole thing self-contained with an electric ducted fan or mini jet engine. Even as it is, it’s still pretty neat. It’s not really his first lightsaber rodeo, but at least this one doesn’t need butane.

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