Is Your Flashlight A Lumen Liar? Build A DIY Integrating Sphere

A lamp used to be simple thing: just stick a filament in a glass bulb, pass a current through it and behold! Let there be light. A bigger lamp meant a larger filament, taking more power and a larger envelope. Now we’ve moved on a bit, and it’s all about LEDs. There really isn’t such a thing as ‘just an LED,’ these are semiconductor devices, made from relatively exotic materials (OK, not just plain old silicon anyway) and there is quite a lot of variety to choose from, and a bit of complexity in selecting them.

For [Torque Test Channel] the efficiency of conversion from electrical power to radiant power (or flux) is the headline figure of interest, which prompted them to buy a bunch of lamps to compare. To do the job justice that requires what’s known in the business as an integrating sphere (aka an Ulbricht sphere), but being a specialist device, it’s a bit pricey for the home gamer. So naturally, they decided to build the thing themselves.

Coating the inside of the foam sphere took several attempts.

Firstly they did the sensible thing, and shipped off their test units to a metrology lab with the ‘proper’ equipment, to get a baseline to calibrate against. Next they set about using some fairly common materials to construct their sphere. The basic idea is quite simple; it has a uniform diffuse internal surface, which ensures that all photons emitted by a source can be measured at the appropriate measurement port, regardless of the angle they are emitted from the source. This way, the total radiated power can be determined, or at least estimated, since there will be a degree of absorption.

Anyway, after a couple of false starts with coating the internal surface, they came to the conclusion that mixing barium sulphate into the paint, and then a bit of a rub-down with sandpaper, gave the required pure white, diffuse surface.

The results from their testing, using a lux meter inserted into one of the other ports, showed a pretty good correspondence between their measured lux figure and the lab-determined lumens figure. Since one lux is defined as one lumen per square meter, they seemed to get lucky and found a consistent ten-to-one ratio between their observed value and the lab. This factor will be simply due to the physical setup of their contraption, but an encouraging result so far anyway. And what about the bottom line? Did those test units deliver their promised lumen output? It would seem that they pretty much did.

When it rains, it pours. Just a few hours ago we saw another DIY approach to building an integrating sphere, this time using a small cannonball mold of all things. Before that we hadn’t actually seen too many light measurement projects, save this old one that used the chipKIT. Continue reading “Is Your Flashlight A Lumen Liar? Build A DIY Integrating Sphere”

Integrating sphere test setup

Cannonball Mold Makes A Dandy Integrating Sphere For Laser Measurements

It’s an age-old riddle: if you have a perfect sphere with a perfectly reflective inner surface, will light bounce around inside it forever? The answer is pretty obvious when you think it through, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t put the principle to use, as we see with this homemade Ulbricht sphere for optical measurements.

If you’ve never heard of an Ulbricht sphere, don’t worry — it’s also known as an integrating sphere, and that makes its function a little more apparent. As [Les Wright] explains, an integrating sphere is an optical element with a hollow spherical cavity that’s coated with a diffusely reflective coating. There are two ports in the sphere, one for admitting light — usually from a laser — and one for light to exit. The light bounces around inside the sphere and becomes perfectly diffuse, and creates a uniform beam at the exit port.

[Les]’ need for an integrating sphere comes from the desire to measure the output of some of his lasers with his Raspberry Pi-based PySpectrometer. Rather than shell out for an expensive commercial integrating sphere, or turn one on a lathe, [Les] turned to an unlikely source: cannonball molds. The inside of the mold was painted with an equally unlikely ultra-white paint concocted from barium sulfate and PVA glue. With a few ports machined into the mold, it works perfectly to diffuse the light from his dye lasers for proper measurements.

Lasers can be an expensive hobby, but [Les] always seems to find a way to make things more affordable and just as good. Whether it’s homemade doorknob caps for high-voltage power supplies or blasting the Bayer filter off a cheap CCD camera, he always seems to find a way.

Continue reading “Cannonball Mold Makes A Dandy Integrating Sphere For Laser Measurements”