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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Hackaday Links: March 22, 2020

Within the span of just two months, our world of unimaginable plenty and ready access to goods manufactured across the globe has been transformed into one where the bare essentials of life are hard to find at any price. The people on the frontline of the battle against COVID-19 are suffering supply chain pinches too, often at great risk to their health. Lack of proper personal protective equipment (PPE), especially face masks, is an acute problem, and the shortage will only exacerbate the problem as healthcare workers go down for the count. Factories are gearing up to make more masks, but in the meantime, the maker and hacker community can pitch in. FreeSewing, an open-source repository of sewing patterns, has a pattern for a simple face mask called the Fu that can be made quickly by an experienced threadworker. Efficacy of the masks made with that pattern will vary based on the materials used, obviously; a slightly less ad hoc effort is the 100 Million Mask Challenge, where volunteers are given a pattern and enough lab-tested materials to make 100 face masks. If you know how to sew, getting involved might make a difference.

As people around the world wrap their heads around the new normal of social distancing and the loss of human contact, there’s been an understandable spike in interest in amateur radio. QRZ.com reports that the FCC has recorded an uptick in the number of amateur radio licenses issued since the COVID-19 outbreak, and license test prep site HamRadioPrep.com has been swamped by new users seeking to prepare for taking the test. As we’ve discussed, the barrier for entry to ham radio is normally very low, both in terms of getting your license and getting the minimal equipment needed to get on the air. One hurdle aspiring hams might face is the cancellation of so-called VE testing, where Volunteer Examiners administer the written tests needed for each license class. Finding a face-to-face VE testing session now might be hard, but the VEs are likely to find a way to adapt. After all, hams were social distancing before social distancing was cool.

The list of public events that have been postponed or outright canceled by this pandemic is long indeed, with pretty much everything expected to draw more than a handful of people put into limbo. The hacking world is not immune, of course, with many high-profile events scuttled. But we hackers are a resourceful bunch, and the 10th annual Open Source Hardware Summit managed to go off on schedule as a virtual meeting last week. You can watch the nearly eight-hour livestream while you’re self-isolating. We’re confident that other conferences will go virtual in the near-term too rather than cancel outright.

And finally, if you’re sick of pandemic news and just want some escapist engineering eye candy, you could do worse than checking out what it takes to make a DSLR camera waterproof. We’ve honestly always numbered cameras as among the very least waterproof devices, but it turns out that photojournalists and filmmakers are pretty rough on their gear and expect it to keep working even so. The story here focuses (sorry) on Olympus cameras and lenses, which you’ll note that Takasu-san only ever refers to as “splash-proof”, and the complex system of O-rings and seals needed to keep water away from their innards. For our money, the best part was learning that lenses that have to change their internal volume, like zoom lenses, need to be vented so that air can move in and out. The engineering needed to keep water out of a vented system like that is pretty impressive.

Macro Photography With Industrial Lenses

Line scan cameras are advanced devices used for process inspection tasks in industrial applications. Used to monitor the quality of silicon wafers and other high-accuracy tasks, they’re often outfitted with top-quality optics that are highly specialised. [Peter] was able to get his hands on a lens for a line-scan camera, and decided to put it to work on some macro photography instead.

Macro image taken with the hacked lens.

Judging by the specs found online, this is a fairly serious piece of kit. It easily competes with top-shelf commercial optics, which is what piqued [Peter]’s interest in the part. Being such a specialised piece of hardware, you can’t just cruise over to eBay for an off-the-shelf adapter. Instead, a long chain of parts were used to affix this lens to a Sony AIII DSLR, converting from threaded fittings to a Nikon mount and then finally to Sony NEX mount.

Further work involved fitting an aperture into the chain to get the lens as close as possible to telecentric. This improves the lens’s performance for certain tasks, and makes focus stacking macro shots more readily achievable – something we’ve seen [Peter] tinker with before.

You never know what you might find when sorting through surplus industrial gear, could could score some high-performance hardware if you know where to look. It’s always great to see a cheap find become a useful instrument in the hacker toolbox!

Image Sensor From Discrete Parts Delivers Glorious 1-Kilopixel Images

Chances are pretty good that you have at least one digital image sensor somewhere close to you at this moment, likely within arm’s reach. The ubiquity of digital cameras is due to how cheap these sensors have become, and how easy they are to integrate into all sorts of devices. So why in the world would someone want to build an image sensor from discrete parts that’s 12,000 times worse than the average smartphone camera? Because, why not?

[Sean Hodgins] originally started this project as a digital pinhole camera, which is why it was called “digiObscura.” The idea was to build a 32×32 array of photosensors and focus light on it using only a pinhole, but that proved optically difficult as the small aperture greatly reduced the amount of light striking the array. The sensor, though, is where the interesting stuff is. [Sean] soldered 1,024 ALS-PT19 surface-mount phototransistors to the custom PCB along with two 32-bit analog multiplexers. The multiplexers are driven by a microcontroller to select each pixel in turn, one row and one column at a time. It takes a full five seconds to scan the array, so taking a picture hearkens back to the long exposures common in the early days of photography. And sure, it’s only a 1-kilopixel image, but it works.

[Sean] has had this project cooking for a while – in fact, the multiplexers he used for the camera came up as a separate project back in 2018. We’re glad to see that he got the rest built, even with the recycled lens he used. One wonders how a 3D-printed lens would work in front of that sensor.

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Acoustic Lenses Show Sound Can Be Focused Like Light

Acoustic lenses are remarkable devices that just got cooler. A recent presentation at SIGGRAPH 2019 showed that with the help of 3D printing, it is possible to build the acoustic equivalent of optical devices. That is to say, configurations that redirect or focus sound waves. One fascinating demonstration worked like an acoustic prism, able to send different notes from a simple melody in different directions. Another was a device that dynamically varied the distance between two lenses in order to focus sound onto a moving target. In both cases, the sounds originate from an ordinary speaker and are shaped by passing through the acoustic lens or lenses, which are entirely passive devices.

Researchers from the University of Sussex used 3D printing for a modular approach to acoustic lens design. 16 different pre-printed “bricks” (shown here) can be assembled in various combinations to get different results. There are limitations, however. The demonstration lenses only work in a narrow bandwidth, meaning that the sound they work with is limited to about an octave at best. That’s enough for a simple melody, but not nearly enough to cover a human’s full audible range. Download the PDF for a quick read about the details, it’s only two pages but loaded with enough to whet your appetite to know more.

Directional sound can be done in other ways as well, such as using an array of ultrasonic emitters to create a coherent beam of sound. Ultrasonic emitters can even levitate lightweight objects. Ain’t sound neat?

3D-Printed Extension For Extreme Macro Photography Includes Lens Electronic Control

Macro photography — the art of taking pictures of tiny things — can be an expensive pastime. Good lenses aren’t cheap, and greater magnification inflates the price even further. One way to release a bit more performance from your optics comes in the form of an extension tube, which mounts your lens further from the camera to zoom in a little on the image. Back in the day with a film SLR you could make a rough and ready tube with cardboard and tape, but in the age of the digital camera the lens has become as much a computer peripheral as an optical device. [Nicholas Sherlock] has solved this problem by creating a 3D-printed extension tube for his Canon that preserves connections between camera and lens.

More details of this 300mm monster’s construction go so far beyond a plastic tub formed of two threaded sections with adapter plates at the ends. He’s using off-the-shelf metal rings to fit camera and lens just right, but making the electronic contacts is where it gets interesting. On end uses pogo pins, the other provides a contact block made of nail heads. In both cases the 3D-printed parts are designed to provide mounting points for the pins and nails. The assembly technique is worth a look both because of the design and as an example of how to document all the juicy details we’re constantly looking for in a great hack.

The results speak for themselves, in that the photography provides an impressive level of close-up detail. If you would like to build your own tube, it is available on Thingiverse.

Macro extensions seem far between here, but we’ve brought you a few lens repairs in our time.

[via /r/photography]