NIST uses Optical Resonance to Probe Atoms

Have you ever stood under a dome and whispered, only to hear the echo of your voice come back much louder? Researchers at NIST used a similar principle to improve the atomic force microscope (AFM), allowing them to measure rapid changes in microscopic material more accurately than ever before.

An AFM works by using a minuscule sharp probe. The instrument detects deflections in the probe, often using a piezoelectric transducer or a laser sensor. By moving the probe against a surface and measuring the transducer’s output, the microscope can form a profile of the surface. The NIST team used a laser traveling through a circular waveguide tuned to a specific frequency. The waveguide is extremely close (150 nm) to a very tiny probe weighing about a trillionth of a gram. When the probe moves a very little bit, it causes the waveguide’s characteristics to change to a much larger degree and a photodetector monitoring the laser light passing through the resonator can pick this up.

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A Thoughtful Variety of Projects and Failures

Our friends at [The Thought Emporium] have been bringing us delightful projects but not all of them warrant a full-fledged video. What does anyone with a bevy of small but worthy projects do? They put them all together like so many mismatched LEGO blocks. Grab Bag #1 is the start of a semi-monthly video series which presents the smaller projects happening behind the scenes of [The Thought Emporium]’s usual video presentations.

Solar eclipse? There are two because the first was only enough to whet [The Thought Emporium]’s appetite. Ionic lifters? Learn about the favorite transformer around the shop and see what happens when high voltage wires get too close. TEA lasers? Use that transformer to make a legitimate laser with stuff around your house. Bismuth casting? Pet supply stores may have what you need to step up your casting game and it’s a total hack. Failures? We got them too.

We first covered ionocraft (lifters) awhile back. TEA lasers have been covered before. Casting is no stranger to hackaday but [The Thought Emporium] went outside the mold with their technique.

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The Illuminated Waterways of the United States

A recent convert to the ways of the laser cutter, redditor [i-made-a-thing] was in want of a project and — stumbling on some waterways maps on Etsy — launched into fabricating an illuminated map of all the waterways in the United States.

The map itself was laser-cut out of 1/4 inch plywood at his local makerspace. Thing is, smaller rivers and tributaries were too narrow at the scale [i-made-a-thing] wanted, so he ended up spending several hours in Photoshop preparing the image so larger rivers would be laser-cut — and not break off– while the rest would be etched onto the surface. After testing the process by making a few coasters, he was ready to get started on the real deal.

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Spell Out the Time with Frickin’ Laser Beams

Clocks are a never-ending source of fascination to hackers. We get all kinds around here, from Steampunk Nixie clocks to retro cool flip clocks to clocks that don’t even look like clocks. But this is something new — a glow-in-the-dark laser tracing clock.

What [tuckershannon]’s clock lacks in practicality it makes up for in the gee-whiz department. The idea is simple: trace the characters out on a phosphorescent screen using a laser. To accomplish this, [tuckershannon] adapted the design of this whiteboard marker robot clock, replacing the drawing surface with glow-in-the-dark stickers. A 405 nm laser diode module is traced over the surface by the two-servo pantograph plotter, charging up the phosphors. He offers no clue as to how long the ghostly image lingers, but from the look of it, we’d bet that it lasts for a good fraction of a minute, especially in a dark room. Then again, you’d want the image totally faded before the next write cycle comes up, to prevent overwriting the previous time.

All in all, it’s a nice design and a clever new clock display modality. And who knows — maybe this whole glowing phosphor display thing could really catch on.

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Boredom + Lasers = Projector!

[Krazer], a post-doctoral researcher at MIT, loves him some lasers. When out of boredom one afternoon he hatched an idea for a laser projector, it grew until a few years later he wound up with this RGB laser for a projector — Mark IV no less.

In addition to 3D-printing the parts, the major innovation with this version is the ability to re-align the lasers as needed; tweaking the vertical alignment is controlled by a screw on the laser mounts while the horizontal alignment is done the same way on the mirror mounts. This simplifies the design and reduces the possibility of part failure or warping over time. An additional aluminium base epoxied to the projector aims to keep the whole from deforming and adds stability. With the help of a mirror for the final alignment — sometimes you must use what you have— the projector is ready to put on a show.

True to the spirit of the art [Krazer] used all open source software for this iteration, and sharing his designs means you can build your own for around $200. As always with lasers take extra precautions to protect your eyes! This 200mW setup is no joke, but that doesn’t mean fun and games are out of the question.

Hackaday Prize Entry: MappyDot, a Micro Smart LiDAR Sensor

[Blecky]’s entry to the Hackaday Prize is MappyDot, a tiny board less than a square inch in size that holds a VL53L0X time-of-flight distance sensor and can measure distances of up to 2 meters.

MappyDot is more than just a breakout board; the ATMega328PB microcontroller on each PCB provides filtering, an easy to use  I2C interface, and automatically handles up to 112 boards connected in a bus. The idea is that one or a few MappyDots can be used by themselves, but managing a large number is just as easy. By dotting a device with multiple MappyDots pointing in different directions, a device could combine the readings to gain a LiDAR-like understanding of its physical environment. Its big numbers of MappyDots [Blecky] is going for, too: he just received a few panels of bare PCBs that he’ll soon be laboriously populating. The good news is, there aren’t that many components on each board.

It’s great to see open sourced projects and tools in which it is clear some thought has gone into making them flexible and easy to use. This means they are easier to incorporate into other work and helps make them a great contestant for the Hackaday Prize.

Microorganisms Can’t Hide From DropoScope

The DropoScope is a water-drop projector that works by projecting a laser through a drop of water, ideally dirty water crawling with microorganisms. With the right adjustments, a bright spot of light is projected onto a nearby wall, revealing a magnified image of the tiny animals within. Single celled organisms show up only as dark spots, but larger creatures like mosquito larvae exhibit definite structure and detail.

While simple in concept and requiring nothing more high-tech than a syringe and a laser pointer, getting useful results can require a lot of fiddly adjustment. But all that is a thing of the past for anyone with access to a laser cutter, thanks to [ingggis].  His design for a laser-cut a fixture lets anyone make and effortlessly adjust their own water-drop projector.

If you’d like to see some microorganisms in action, embedded below is video from a different water-drop projector (one identical in operation, but not lucky enough to benefit from [ingggis]’s design.)

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