Blowing Rings With Cannons, Fogs, And Lasers

In today’s healthy lifestyle oriented world, blowing smoke rings won’t impress too many people anymore. Unless of course you are [NightHawkInLight] and blow them with a vortex cannon and add lasers for visual effects. Although, his initial motivation was to build a device that could shoot lost frisbees out off the trees in his backyard disc golf course, and as avid enthusiast of shooting things through the air using a propane torch, he opted for a vortex cannon to avoid the risk of injuries shooting a projectile may cause.

With safety in mind from the beginning, [NightHawkInLight] chose to build the cannon in ways that won’t expose him or people following his footsteps to any toxic fumes. The barrel is formed by securing a roll of terrace board and simply pulling it into a cone. A series of PVC pipes and adapters build the combustion chamber that fits the terrace board barrel on its one end, and the propane torch nozzle on its other end. For easier aim and stability, he also adds a tripod mount.

Since air vortices are, well, air, and therefore not visible by themselves, they don’t offer the most visual excitement. [NightHawkInLight] solved this with a fog machine attached to the barrel, and a laser line module, which you can see for yourself in his build video after the break. In a previous vortex cannon project we could also see a more outdoorsy approach to add visibility to it.
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Robot Targets Eyeballs, Fires Lasers. OSHA’s Gonna Love this One

If you even think about hacking with lasers, you’re going to hear about eye safety. “Be careful” they’ll say. “Don’t look into laser with remaining eye” is a joke you’ll not be able to avoid. You’ll hear “Where are your goggles”, and about 1000 other warnings. Don’t get us wrong, laser/eye safety is important. However, the constant warnings can get a bit old — especially when you’re working with a “low power” class 3a laser — you know, the kind with a warning label that says “AVOID DIRECT EYE EXPOSURE” in big black letters on a yellow background.

[Michael Reeves] got fed up, and went a bit nuts. He built a robot specifically to shine a laser into human eyes. No, not a medical robot. This ‘bot lives in a pizza box, is built from servos, duct tape, and [Michael’s] tears. It just shoots lasers at people’s eyes. Needless to say, please, don’t try this at home, or at all.

Designing such a diabolical beast was actually rather simple. The software is written in C#. Frames are captured from an old Logitech webcam, then passed into Emgu CV, which is a .NET wrapper for OpenCV. [Michael] runs a simple face detection algorithm, and uses the results to aim a laser. The laser is mounted on two R/C style servos. An Arduino forms the glue between the servos and the PC.

[Michael] has a great deadpan delivery and it all makes for a great video. Think of him of a younger [Medhi] over at Electroboom.  But we can’t condone this behavior. Properly labeled and characterized red laser pointers have never been shown to cause eye damage. Yet if the laser is out-of-spec or reflects of something that further focuses the beam it is certainly capable of damaging eyesight.

We want [Michael’s] eyesight to remain intact so he can make more videos — he’s entertaining, even if ignoring safety warnings isn’t.

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Laser Sequencer uses Arduino to Enable Super-Microscope!

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[Philip]’s Laser control Arduino shield.

[Philip Nicovich] has been building laser sequencers over at the University of New South Wales. His platform is used to sequence laser excitation on his fluorescence microscopy systems. In [Philip]’s case, these systems are used for super-resolution microscopy, that is breaking the diffraction limit allowing the imaging of structures of only a few nanometers (1 millionth of a millimeter) in size.

Using an Arduino shield he designed in Eagle, [Philip] was able to build the system for less than half the cost of a commercial platform.

The control system is build around the simple Arduino shield shown to the right, which uses simple 74 series logic to send TTL control signals to the laser diodes used in his rig. The Arduino runs code which allows laser firing sequences to be programmed and executed.

[Philip] also provides scripts which show how the Arduino can be interfaced with the open source micro manager control software.

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As well as the schematics [Philip] has provided STEP files and drawings for the enclosure and mounts used in the system and a detailed BOM.

More useful than all this perhaps is the comprehensive write-up he provides. This describes the motivation for decisions such as the use of aluminum over steel due to its ability to transfer heat more effectively, and not to use thermal paste due to out-gassing.

While I can almost hear the cries of “not a hack”, the growing use of open source platforms and tool in academia fills us with joy. Thanks for the write-up [Philip] we look forward to hearing more about your laser systems in the future!

Star Track: A Lesson in Positional Astronomy With Lasers

[gocivici] threatened us with a tutorial on positional astronomy when we started reading his tutorial on a Arduino Powered Star Pointer and he delivered. We’d pick him to help us take the One Ring to Mordor; we’d never get lost and his threat-delivery-rate makes him less likely to pull a Boromir.

As we mentioned he starts off with a really succinct and well written tutorial on celestial coordinates that antiquity would have killed to have. If we were writing a bit of code to do our own positional astronomy system, this is the tab we’d have open. Incidentally, that’s exactly what he encourages those who have followed the tutorial to do.

The star pointer itself is a high powered green laser pointer (battery powered), 3D printed parts, and an amalgam of fourteen dollars of Chinese tech cruft. The project uses two Arduino clones to process serial commands and manage two 28byj-48 stepper motors. The 2nd Arduino clone was purely to supplement the digital pins of the first; we paused a bit at that, but then we realized that import arduinos have gotten so cheap they probably are more affordable than an I2C breakout board or stepper driver these days. The body was designed with a mixture of Tinkercad and something we’d not heard of, OpenJsCAD.

Once it’s all assembled and tested the only thing left to do is go outside with your contraption. After making sure that you’ve followed all the local regulations for not pointing lasers at airplanes, point the laser at the north star. After that you can plug in any star coordinate and the laser will swing towards it and track its location in the sky. Pretty cool.

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How Lasers Actually Work

Lasers are optical amplifiers, optical oscillators, and in a way, the most sophisticated light source ever invented. Not only are lasers extremely useful, but they are also champions of magnitude: While different laser types cover the electromagnetic spectrum from radiation (<10 nm) over the visible spectrum to far infrared light (699 μm), their individual output band can be as narrow as a few µHz. Their high temporal and spatial coherence lets them cover hundreds of meters in a tight beam of lowest divergence as a perfectly sinusoidal, electromagnetic wave. Some lasers reach peak power outputs of several exawatts, while their beams can be focused down to the smallest spot sizes in the hundreds and even tens of nanometers. Laser is the acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission Of Radiation, which suggests that it makes use of a phenomenon called stimulated emission, but well, how exactly do they do that? It’s time to look the laser in the eye (Disclaimer: don’t!).

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Freezing Stuff With Fricken’ Lasers

For almost two decades there has been research that describes a method to freeze material with nothing but a laser. The techniques have only ever been able to work on single nano-crystals in a vacuum, making it less than functional — or practical. Until now, that is.

Researchers at the University of Washington have figured out how to cool a liquid indirectly using an infrared laser. It works by subjecting a special microscopic crystal to the laser. When the laser hits this crystal, the infrared light turns to the visible spectrum, becoming a reddish green light — which happens to be more energetic than infrared. This shift in energy levels is what causes a change in temperature. The energy (in the way of heat) is sucked from the fluid surrounding the crystal, and as such, causes a drop in the temperature of the liquid. Continue reading “Freezing Stuff With Fricken’ Lasers”

Self Built Interferometer Measures Nanometer Displacement

[jrcgarry] hacked together this awesome interferometer which is able to measure displacements in the nanometer range. Commercial interferometers are used in research labs to measure tiny displacements on the nanometer scale, and can cost tens of thousands of dollars. [jrcgarry] used beam splitters from BluRay drives, mirrors from ebay and a 5mw laser diode.

We’ve covered the use of interferometers before. But never an instrument built from scratch like this. Interferometers exploit the wave-like nature of a beam of light. The beam is split and sent down two separate paths, where the beams bounce off mirrors to return to the beam splitter to be recombined. Because of its wave light nature the beams will interfere with each other. And as the beams have traveled different distances they may be in or out of phase. Resulting in either constructive (brighter) or destructive (darker) interference.

Because the wavelength of light is on the order of 100s of nanometers, by observing the interference patterns you can monitor the displacement of the mirrors with respect to each other at nanometer resolution. [jrcgarry] doesn’t use the interferometer for any particular application in this tutorial but it’s a great demonstration of the technique!