Precision Optics Hack Chat With Jeroen Vleggaar Of Huygens Optics

Join us on Wednesday, December 2nd at noon Pacific for the Precision Optics Hack Chat with Jeroen Vleggaar!

We sometimes take for granted one of the foundational elements of our technological world: optics. There are high-quality lenses, mirrors, filters, and other precision optical components in just about everything these days, from the smartphones in our pockets to the cameras that loom over us from every streetlight and doorway. And even in those few devices that don’t incorporate any optical components directly, you can bet that the ability to refract, reflect, collimate, or otherwise manipulate light was key to creating the electronics inside it.

The ability to control light with precision is by no means a new development in our technological history, though. People have been creating high-quality optics for centuries, and the methods used to make optics these days would look very familiar to them. Precision optical surfaces can be constructed by almost anyone with simple hand tools and a good amount of time and patience, and those components can then be used to construct instruments that can explore the universe wither on the micro or macro scale.

Jeroen Vleggaar, know better as Huygens Optics on YouTube, will drop by the Hack Chat to talk about the world of precision optics. If you haven’t seen his videos, you’re missing out!

When not conducting optical experiments such as variable surface mirrors and precision spirit levels, or explaining the Double Slit Experiment, Jeroen consults on optical processes and designs. In this Hack Chat, we’ll talk about how precision optical surfaces are manufactured, what you can do to get started grinding your own lenses and mirrors, and learn a little about how these components are measured and used.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, December 2 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones baffle you as much as us, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

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Proprietary Lenses Are No Problem With This USB Adaptor

There was a time when a camera lens was simply a set of shaped pieces of glass in a tube, with a mount and an aperture. But as cameras have embraced electronics ever more, technology has found its way past the lens mount to the extent that all features of a modern lens are electronically controllable. Can they be used outside the confines of the camera they were designed for? If the user is [Jan Henrik] then certainly, because he’s created a nifty USB adapter and mount for Canon lenses for use with his custom streaming camera.

The hardware is a 3D printed lens mount with a PCB that mates with the pins on the lens. An STM32 does the hard work and talks to the outside world through a USB interface, however it’s in the software that the real effort lies. The Canon lens protocol has been extended since the 1980s, and the commands for different generations of lenses can be convoluted. All the information is in a GitHub repository, so the curious hacker can roll their own.

There are a wealth of camera projects to be found for those that don’t mind tearing apart some of their more valuable possessions, and this isn’t the first we’ve seen involving the hacking of the Canon protocol.

Escape To An Alternate Reality Anywhere With Port-A-Vid

There was a time when only the most expensive televisions could boast crystal clear pixels on a wall-mountable thin screen. What used to be novelty from “High Definition Flat Screen Televisions are now just “TV” available everywhere. So as a change of pace from our modern pixel perfection, [Emily Velasco] built the Port-A-Vid as a relic from another timeline.

The centerpiece of any aesthetically focused video project is obviously the screen, and a CRT would be the first choice for a retro theme. Unfortunately, small CRTs have recently become scarce, and a real glass picture tube would not fit within the available space anyhow. Instead, we’re actually looking at a modern LCD sitting behind a big lens to give it an old school appearance.

The lens, harvested from a rear-projection TV, was chosen because it was a good size to replace the dial of a vacuum gauge. This project enclosure started life as a Snap-On Tools MT425 but had become just another piece of broken equipment at a salvage yard. The bottom section, formerly a storage bin for hoses and adapters, is now home to the battery and electronics. All original markings on the hinged storage lid were removed and converted to the Port-A-Vid control panel.

A single press of the big green button triggers a video to play, randomly chosen from a collection of content [Emily] curated to fit with the aesthetic. We may get a clip from an old educational film, or something shot with a composite video camera. If any computer graphics pop up, they will be primitive vector graphics. This is not the place to seek ultra high definition content.

As a final nod to common artifacts of electronics history, [Emily] wrote an user’s manual for the Port-A-Vid. Naturally it’s not a downloadable PDF, but a stack of paper stapled together. Each page written in the style of electronics manuals of yore, treated with the rough look of multiple generation photocopy rumpled with use.

If you have to ask “Why?” it is doubtful any explanation would suffice. This is a trait shared with many other eclectic projects from [Emily]. But if you are delighted by fantastical projects hailing from an imaginary past, [Emily] has also built an ASCII art cartridge for old parallel port printers.

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500 Lasers Are Not Necessarily Better Than One, But They Look Great

If playing with but a single laser pointer is fun, then playing with 500 laser pointers must be 500 times the fun, right? So by extension, training 500 laser pointers on a single point must be the pinnacle of pointless mirth. And indeed it is.

When we first spotted this project, we thought for sure it was yet another case of lockdown-induced  boredom producing an over-the-top build. Mind you, we have no problem with that, but in this case, [nanoslavic] relates that this is actually a project from a few years back. It’s really as simple as it looks: 500 laser pointer modules arranged on a plate with a grid of holes in a 25 by 20 array. As he placed the laser modules on the board with a glob of hot glue, he carefully aimed each one to hit a single point about a meter and a half away.  There are also a handful of blue LEDs nestled into the array, because what project is complete without blue LEDs?

The modules are wired in concentric circuits and controlled by a simple bank of toggle switches. Alas, 500 converging 150-mW 5 mW lasers do not a 75-W 2.5 W laser make; when fully powered, the effect at the focal point is reported to be only a bit warm. But it looks incredible, especially through smoke. Throwing mirrors and lenses into the beam results in some interesting patterns, too.

You’ll still need to take safety seriously if you build something like this, of course, but this one is really just for show. If you’re really serious about doing some damage with lasers, check out the long list of inadvisable laser builds that [Styropyro] has accumulated — from a high-powered “lightsaber” to a 200-Watt laser bazooka.

(Terminate your beams carefully, folks. We don’t want anyone going blind.)

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Milling Dies And Injection Moulding Some Acrylic Lenses

[Zach] over at his channel Breaking Taps has put up an extraordinary account on manufacturing some homemade acrylic lenses. In the end, not only does he produce some beautiful concave lenses, he also covers the complete manufacturing process, from milling the aluminium die used for injection moulding to tweaking the parameters associated with injecting the actual acrylic, he even goes over the limitations of optics produced in this fashion.

What caught our eye in particular, was how [Zach] used the finished product to practically demonstrate photoelasticity originating from the stress induced by the moulding process. You might be familiar with describing the optical properties of a material by a single number, i.e its permittivity. But what happens if in addition to altering speed, the material also alters the polarisation and direction of light depending on the stress distribution within the material? Whilst a quantitative answer gets a bit complicated you can check out [Zach’s] additional videos to visualise the answer in a pretty and colourful way, without resorting to fancy computer simulations! If however, you really want to persist with the simulation route, check out our article on stress analysis in a totally different setting using Finite Element Analysis.

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This Camera Captures Piezo Inkjet Micro-Drops For DIY Microfluidics

In microfluidics, there are “drop on demand” instruments to precisely deposit extremely small volumes (pico- or nano-liters) of fluid. These devices are prohibitively expensive, so [Kyle] set out to design a system using hobbyist-level parts for under $1000. As part of this, he has a fascinating use case for a specialized camera: capturing the formation and shape of a micro-drop as it is made.

There are so many different parts to this effort that it’s all worth a read, but the two big design elements come down to:

  1. Making the microdrop using a piezo element
  2. Ensuring the drop is made correctly, and visually troubleshooting

Working prototype. The piezo tube is inside the blue piece at the top. The camera is to the right, and the LED strobe is on the left.

It’s one thing to make an inkjet element in a printer work, but it’s quite another to make a piezoelectric element dispense arbitrary liquids in a controlled, repeatable, and predictable way. Because piezoelectric elements force liquid out with a mechanical motion, different liquids require different drive signals and that kind of experimentation requires a way to see what is going on, hence the need for a drop observation camera.

[Kyle] ended up taking the lens assembly from a cheap USB microscope and mating it to his Korukesu C1 USB Camera with a 3D printed assembly. Another 3D printed enclosure doubles as a lightbox, holding the piezo tube in the center with the LED strobe and camera on opposite sides. The whole assembly had a few false starts, but in the end [Kyle] seems pretty happy with his results. The device is briefly described at a high level here. There are some rough edges, but it’s a working system.

Inkjet technology has been around for a long time (you can see a thirty-plus year old inkjet printer in action here) but it’s worth mentioning that not all inkjet heads are alike. Most inkjet printer heads operate thermally, which means a flash of heat vaporizes some ink to expel a micro-drop. These heads aren’t very suitable for microfluidics because not only do they rely on vaporizing the liquid, but they also don’t work well with anything other than the ink they’re designed for. Piezoelectric print heads are less common, but are more suited to the kind of work [Kyle] is doing.

[Ben Krasnow] Rolls Old School Camera Out For Photolithography

In a time when cameras have been reduced to microchips, it’s ironic that the old view camera, with its bellows and black cloth draped over the viewscreen for focusing, endures as an icon for photography. Such technology appears dated and with no application in the modern world, but as [Ben Krasnow] shows us, an old view camera is just the thing when you want to make homemade microchips. (Video, embedded below.)

Granted, the photolithography process [Ben] demonstrates in the video below is quite a bit upstream from the creation of chips. But mastering the process on a larger scale is a step on the way. The idea is to create a high-resolution photograph of a pattern — [Ben] chose both a test pattern and, in a nod to the season, an IRS tax form — that can be used as a mask. The camera he chose is a 4×5 view camera, the kind with lens and film connected by adjustable bellows. He found that modifications were needed to keep the film fixed at the focal plane, so he added a vacuum port to the film pack to suck the film flat. Developing film has always been magical, and watching the latent images appear on the film under the red light of the darkroom really brings us back — we can practically smell the vinegary stop solution.

[Ben] also steps through the rest of the photolithography process — spin coating glass slides with photoresist, making a contact print of the negative under UV light, developing the print, and sputtering it with titanium. It’s a fascinating process, and the fact that [Ben] mentions both garage chip-maker [Sam Zeloof] and [Justin Atkin] from the Thought Emporium means that three of our favorite YouTube mad scientists are collaborating. The possibilities are endless.

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