Vintage Spectrometer Gets Modern Interface Upgrade

There’s plenty of specialised, high-end scientific equipment out there running on antique hardware and software. It’s not uncommon for old lab equipment to run on DOS or other ancient operating systems. When these expensive tools get put out to pasture, they often end up in the hands of hackers, who, without the benefit of manuals or support, may try and get them going again. [Jerry Biehler] is trying to do just that with a 740AD spectrometer, built by Optronic Laboratories in the 1990s.

Originally, the device shipped with a whole computer – a Leading Edge 386SX25 PC running DOS and Windows 3.0. The tools to run the spectrometer were coded in BASIC. Armed with the source code, [Jerry] was able to recreate the functionality in LabVIEW. To replace the original ISA interface board, an Advantech USB-4751 digital IO module was used instead, which dovetailed nicely with its inbuilt LabVIEW support.

With things back up and running, [Jerry] has put the hardware through its paces, testing the performance of some IR camera filters. Apparently, the hardware, or the same model, was once used to test the quantum efficiency of CCDs used on the Hubble Space Telescope.

Seeing old lab equipment saved from the scrap bin is great, but you can’t always rely on what you want being thrown out. In those cases, you’ve got to build your own from the ground up. Video after the break.

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Spinach Photo Prints

Some people like spinach in their salads. Others would prefer it if it never gets near their fork. Still, other folks, like [Almudena Romero], use it for printing pictures, and they’re the folks we’ll focus on today.

Anthotypes are positive images made from plant dyes that fade from light exposure. Imagine you stain your shirt at a picnic and leave it in the sun with a fork covering part of the stain. When you come back, the stain not sheltered by cutlery is gone, but now you have a permanent fork shape logo made from aunt Bev’s BBQ sauce. The science behind this type of printmaking is beautifully covered in the video below the break. You see, some plant dyes are not suitable for light bleaching, and fewer still if you are not patient since stains like blueberry can take a month in the sun.

The video shows how to make your own plant dye, which has possibilities outside of anthotype printing. Since the dye fades in sunlight, it can be a temporary paint, or you could use samples all over your garden to find which parts get lots of sunlight since the most exposed swatches will be faded the most. Think of a low-tech UV meter with logging, but it runs on spinach.

If the science doesn’t intrigue you, the artistic possibilities are equally cool. All the pictures have a one-of-a-kind, wabi-sabi flare. You take your favorite photo, make it monochrome, print it on a transparent plastic sheet, and the ink will shield the dye and expose the rest. We just gave you a tip about finding the sunniest spot outdoors, so get staining.

Anthotype printing shares some similarities with etch-resist in circuit board printing processes, but maybe someone can remix spinach prints with laser exposure!

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