Not So Simple LED Upgrade for Microscope

[Amen] obtained a microscope whose light source was an incandescent bulb, but the light from it seemed awfully dim even at its brightest setting. Rather than hunt down a replacement, he decided to replace the bulb with a 1W LED mounted on a metal cylinder. The retrofit was successful, but there were numerous constraints on his work that complicated things. The original bulb and the LED replacement differed not just in shape and size, but also in electrical requirements. The bulb was also part of an assembly that used a two-pronged plug off to the side for power. In the end, [Amen] used 3D printing, a bit of metal work, and a bridge rectifier on some stripboard to successfully replace his microscope’s incandescent bulb assembly with an LED. He even used a lathe to make connector pins that mated properly with the microscope’s proprietary power connector, so that the LED unit could be a drop-in module.

Working on existing equipment always puts constraints on one’s work, usually due to space limitations, but sometimes also proprietary signals. For example, a common issue when refitting a projector with an LED is to discover that the projector expects a stock bulb, and refuses to boot up without one. Happily, the microscope didn’t care much about the bulb itself, and with the LED positioned in roughly the same position as the original bulb’s filament [Amen] obtained smooth and even lighting across the field of view with no changes made to the microscope itself.

LED Tree Brings Gravity to Christmas

Here’s a fun entry into our coin cell challenge. The power source is the actuating force in [Frank]’s blinky LED Christmas tree, which takes advantage of the physical structure of coin cells and our old pal gravity to roll out some holiday cheer. Talk about forward voltage!

We love the concept, and the circuit couldn’t be more simple. A coin cell is released at the top of the tree and rolls down a series of angled foam board railings covered with 1/4″ copper tape. As the coin cell travels, the negative terminal shimmies along the face of the tree, which has corresponding ground rail tapes. There’s no microcontroller here—all that’s needed for blinks are breaks in the negative rail tape.

The challenging part of a project like this is the execution. Getting a coin cell to ride the rails without falling off required angle experimentation prior to and during the build. Now that it’s done, keeping the tree tilted back against the wall is key. [Frank] explored several options for returning the coin cell to the top using a camera motor and the gear assembly from an old inkjet, but for now, his six-year-old does the job without complaint. Check out his work ethic after the break.

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The Majesty of Saturn’s Rings Lighting Your Abode

[Modustrial Maker] is at it again with another seriously cool LED visualizer. This time around, he’s built pair of pendant lights inspired by the rings of Saturn.

The rings are made mostly of walnut plywood using a circle router jig to make the cut easier. If you are inspired to make these for yourself, [Modustrial Maker] is clear — the order in which you cut out the pieces of the rings is absolutely critical. The pieces are glued together — with any edges sanded smooth — and edgebanding applied using a hot air gun due to the curved surface before staining. Duplicate for the second (or more if you so choose!) rings. Be forewarned — a little geometry will be needed to find anchor points that will keep the rings properly balanced.

[Modustrial Maker] suggests an off-the shelf LED controller to handle the visualizations and lighting effects, but he used an Arduino Mega clone as the brains — code available here, a MonkeyJack MAX9814 electret mic, and a four-channel RF remote/transceiver to control the different modes. Pulsing along to the music, these rings make for sleek lighting indeed.

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This Boombox Hack is Lit

Old boomboxes make great hacks. Their design is iconic; yes they look dated but that really just builds on the nostalgic urge to have one hanging around. Plus their big cases simply invite adding things inside in a way impossible with contemporary electronics.

[Danc0rp] hacked his JVC M70 boombox to make the speakers glow with animated light, bumping VU meters, and a pulsing horizontal bar above the tape deck. The effect is superb. The cones of the speakers act like a projection surface and the grilles hide the LEDs until they activate, and enhance the effects once unleashed. It is one of the best LED speaker hacks we’ve ever seen.

Custom board with Arduino UNO
Custom board with Arduino UNO

The light effects are provided by LED strips, which for the speakers are attached just inside the outer rim. The brains behind it all is an Arduino UNO. To connect to it, he soldered components to a blank Arduino prototyping board. That board takes input from the boombox’s line-out and does some filtering (an attempt to address some ground noise) before passing the signal on to the Arduino. That board also interfaces between the Arduino and the LED strips. The schematic is available on his GitHub page. He’d like to replace the board with a custom PCB instead and is looking for design help.

The result is not only beautiful but professional looking too. This makes us wonder why boomboxes don’t come this way. See it for yourself in the video below.

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There Once Was an IC Dedicated to Blinking an LED

Today you can buy flashing LEDs; a simple two-lead component that requires only a power supply to produce even flashes of light. They look for all the world like any other LED, though embedded in the plastic dome is an integrated circuit to do all that flashing work.

There was a time though when a flashing LED was something of a big deal, so much so that National Semiconductor produced a dedicated chip for the task. The LM3909 boasted the ability to flash an LED for over a year using a single C battery. That part is now long out of production, so [Dillon] has implemented the LM3909 circuit using discrete components on a small PCB designed to take pins and fit the footprint of the original.

Why on earth might a reborn LM3909 be of interest to him, you ask? Well, he wasn’t able to make a 555 flash the LED from a coin cell, and a friend mentioned this chip which piqued his interest. The internal schematic is in the data sheet (found in the files section of his project), so he was able to implement it relatively easily using common parts. It still requires an external capacitor just like the original, but there is space on-board should you wish to put it there.

He’s produced a video we’ve placed below the break showing the device in action, proving it to be a drop-in replacement for an original. Recreations of classic chips using discretes are nothing new, we recently brought you a reborn PSU regulator chip made in 2014. An while you’re playing around with coin cell batteries, may we direct your attention to the Coin Cell Challenge.

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Celebrate Display Diversity for a Circuit Circus Clock

There’s a lot to be said for nice, tidy projects where everything lines up and looks pretty. Seeing straight lines and pleasing proportions speaks to our obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and tends to soothe the mind and calm the spirit. But disorder is not without its charm, and mixing it up a little from time to time, such as with this mixed-media digital clock, can be a good idea.

Now, we know what you’re thinking — yet another Nixie clock. True, but that’s only half the story — or more accurately, one-sixth. There’s but a single Nixie in [Fuselage]’s circus-punk themed clock, used for the least significant digit in the hours part of the display. The other digits are displayed with four seven-segment devices — a Numitron, a vacuum fluorescent display, and an LED dot display — plus a real oddball, an old electromechanical display with individual slides for each character and a rear-screen projector. The RTC part of the project is standard Arduino fare, but as you can imagine the power supply needed for such a diversity of displays is pretty complex and has to provide everything from +5 to -270 volts. Each display needs its own driver, too, making this more of a zoo than a circus. The mixed up look just works with the circus theme, too. We’d really like more information on the projector display, though.

Looking for a real statement for your next clock build? Check out the rare as hens’ teeth NIMO tube.

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LED Fabrication from Wafer to Light

Building a circuit to blink an LED is the hardware world’s version of the venerable “Hello, world!” program — it teaches you the basics in a friendly, approachable way. And the blinky light project remains a valuable teaching tool right up through the hardware wizard level, provided you build your own LEDs first.

For [emach1ne], the DIY LED was part of a Master’s degree course and began with a slice of epitaxial wafer that goes through cleaning, annealing, and acid etching steps in preparation for photolithography. While gingerly handling some expensive masks, [emach1ne] got to use some really cool tools and processes — mask aligners, plasma etchers, and electron beam vapor deposition. [emach1ne] details every step that led to a nursery of baby LEDs on the wafer, each of which was tested. Working arrays were cut from the wafer and mounted in a lead frame, bonded with gold wires, and fiat lux.

The whole thing must have been a great experience in modern fab methods, and [emach1ne] should feel lucky to have access to tools like these. But if you think you can’t build your own semiconductor fab, we beg to differ.

[via r/engineering]