Neon Lamps — Not Just For Pilot Lights

It’s easy to see why LEDs largely won out over neon bulbs for pilot light applications. But for all the practical utility of LEDs, they’re found largely lacking in at least one regard over their older indicator cousins: charm. Where LEDs are cold and flat, the gentle orange glow of a neon lamp brings a lot to the aesthetics party, especially in retro builds.

But looks aren’t the only thing these tiny glow lamps have going for them, and [David Lovett] shows off some of the surprising alternate uses for neon lamps in his new video. He starts with an exploration of the venerable NE-2 bulb, which has been around forever, detailing some of its interesting electrical properties, like the difference between the voltage needed to start the neon discharge and the voltage needed to maintain it. He also shows off some cool neon lamp tricks, like using them for all sorts of multi-vibrator circuits without anything but a few resistors and capacitors added in. The real fun begins when he breaks out the MTX90 tube, which is essentially a cold cathode thyratron. The addition of a simple control grid makes for some interesting circuits, like single-tube multi-vibrators.

The upshot of all these experiments is pretty clear to anyone who’s been following [David]’s channel, which is chock full of non-conventional uses for vacuum tubes. His efforts to build a “hollow state” computer would be greatly aided by neon lamp circuits such as these — not to mention how cool they’d make everything look.

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Building A Glowing Demon Core Lamp

The so-called Demon Core was a cursed object, a 6.2 kilogram mass of plutonium intended to be installed in a nuclear weapon. Instead, slapdash experimental techniques saw it feature in several tragic nuclear accidents and cause multiple fatalities. Now, you can build yourself a lamp themed after this evil dense sphere.

A later recreation of the infamous “Slotin Accident” that occurred with the Demon Core. Credit: Public Domain, Los Alamos National Laboratory

Creator [skelly] has designed the lamp to replicate the Slotin incident, where the spherical Demon Core was placed inside two half-spheres of beryllium which acted as neutron reflectors to allow it to approach criticality. Thus, the core is printed as a small sphere which is thin enough to let light escape, mimicking the release of radiation that doomed Louis Slotin. The outer spheres are then printed in silvery PLA to replicate the beryllium half-spheres. It’s all assembled atop a stand mimicking those used in the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the 1940s.

To mimic the Core’s deadly blue glow, the build uses cheap LED modules sourced from Dollar Tree lights. With the addition of a current limiting resistor, they can easily be run off USB power in a safe manner.

The Demon Core has become a meme in recent times, perhaps as a new generation believes themselves smart enough not to tinker with 6.2 kilograms of plutonium and a screwdriver. That’s not to say there aren’t still dangerous nuclear experiments going on, even the DIY kind. Be careful out there!

IKEA LED Lamp Gets Hacked For Night Light Duty

IKEA make a lot of different lamps, including useful motion-sensitive models that can click on when you walk past. [Andrew Menadue] trialed one as a night light, but it was far too bright for the task. It also would come on during the day time, wasting its precious battery life when it wasn’t needed. Thus, in order to mold the lamp to its new purpose, hacking ensued.

The first step, as it so often is, was to crack open the case and look inside. Preliminary inspections revealed a BISS0001 chip —¬† a simple passive infrared motion sensor. The chip has a function built in that can disable the output from triggering if it detects light. Adding a light-dependent resistor and a further 100K resistor was all that was needed to enable this feature.

Now, the lamp only kicks on if it detects motion at night. Some further tweaks also cut the current limit to the LEDs, reducing the brightness to a more suitable level for night time. [Andrew] now has a useful night light that suits his needs, and likes it so much that he once drove 150 miles to recover one that he left behind on vacation. That’s dedication!

Epoxy Resin Night Light Is An Amazing Ocean-Themed Build

We’ve all seen those “river” tables where a lovely old piece of tree is filled with some blue resin to create a water-like aesthetic. This project from [smartyleowl] takes that basic idea, but pushes it further, and the result is a beautiful build that is as much a diorama as it is a simple lamp.

First up, an appropriate rough piece of unprepared wood is chosen to create a cliff for the underwater scene. Speckles of UV-reactive blue powder are scattered on to the wood and some little plastic coral and marine plants are stuck down as well. A mold is then constructed around the wood using acrylic. Small whale and diver figurines are dangled in place, and blue resin poured in to complete the underwater scene. Once the resin has hardened, it’s polished to a clear sheen and its edges are nicely beveled. It’s then placed on a illuminated base which lights the scene from below, giving it a somewhat ethereal underwater quality.

It’s not a complicated project by any means, but it’s a great example of the beautiful things one can create with the creative application of colored resin. Producing a lamp that looks this good obviously takes some skill, of course – getting a bubble-free resin pour and a nice shiny finish on the wood isn’t easy. However, there’s no reason you can’t start learning today! Video after the break.

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Backpack COVID-19 lab

HDD Centrifuge Puts COVID-19 Testing Lab In A Backpack

Throughout this two-year global COVID-19 nightmare, one thing that has been sorely lacking is access to testing. “Flu-like symptoms” covers a lot of ground, and knowing if a sore throat is just a sore throat or something more is important enough that we’ve collectively plowed billions into testing. Unfortunately, the testing infrastructure remains unevenly distributed, which is a problem this backpack SARS-CoV-2 testing lab aims to address.

The portable lab, developed by [E. Emily Lin] and colleagues at the Queen Mary University of London, uses a technique called LAMP, for loop-mediated isothermal amplification. LAMP probably deserves an article of its own to explain the process, but suffice it to say that like PCR, LAMP amplifies nucleic acid sequences, but does so without the need for expensive thermal cycling equipment. The kit contains a microcentrifuge that’s fashioned from an e-waste hard drive, a 3D printed rotor, and an Arduino to drive the motor and control the speed. The centrifuge is designed to run on any 12 VDC source, meaning the lab can be powered by a car battery or solar panel if necessary. Readout relies on the trusty Mark I eyeball and a pH-indicating buffer that changes color depending on how much SARS-CoV-2 virus was in the sample.

Granted, the method used here still requires more skill to perform than a simple “spit on a stick” rapid antigen test, and it’s somewhat more subjective than the “gold standard” quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) assay. But the method is easily learned, and the kit’s portability, simple design, and low-cost construction could make it an important tool in attacking this pandemic, or the next one.

Thanks to [Christian Himmler] for the tip.

Experiments With A Nernst Lamp

Every biography of Edison talks about how the secret to the incandescent lamp was to remove the air from the bulb. That’s true when you use conventional filaments, but a man named Nernst found that using a filament that was already oxidized would allow you to create a lamp that would operate fine in the normal atmosphere. [Jaynes Network] takes a look at these oddities which date back to the 1800s in a recent video that you can see below.

The lamps use a ceramic filament, but the downside is that the filament needs to be hot to allow the lamp to work. The experiment takes a zirconium oxide rod and attempts to light it up. The heat source is a propane torch.

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A Glowing Potato Peeler Makes A Nernst Lamp

Over the last couple few decades there has been a great shift in electric lighting, first towards more compact and efficient fluorescent lights, and then towards LED bulbs. The old incandescent bulbs, while giving a pleasant light, were not by any means efficient. Digging into the history books the incandescent bulb as we know it was not the only game in town; while suspending a filament in a vacuum stopped it from being oxidized there was another type of light that used a ceramic element at atmospheric pressure. The Nernst lamp required its filament to be heated before it would conduct electricity, and [Drop Table Adventures] has made one using the blade from a ceramic potato peeler.

The right ceramic is not the problem given the ease of finding ceramic kitchen utensils, but two problems make a practical light difficult. The copper connections themselves become too hot and oxidize, and preheating the ceramic with a blowtorch is difficult while also keeping an even heat. Finally, they do manage a self-sustaining lamp, albeit not the brightest one.

If you think the Nernst lamp sounds familiar, maybe it’s because we covered it as part of our retrotechtacular series.

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