Low-Tech Fix Saves Expensive, High-Tech TV From Junk Pile

Wiggling this connector caused the backlight to turn off and on.

[Tweepy]’s TV stopped working, and the experience is a brief reminder that if a modern appliance fails, it is worth taking a look inside because the failure might be something simple. In this case, the dead TV was actually a dead LED backlight, and the fix was so embarrassingly simple that [Tweepy] is tempted to chalk it up to negligently poor DFM (design for manufacture) at best, or even some kind of effort at planned obsolescence at worst.

What happened is this: the TV appeared to stop working, but one could still make out screen content while shining a bright light on the screen. Seeing this, [Tweepy] deduced that the backlight had failed, and opened up the device to see if it could be repaired. However, the reason for the backlight failure was a surprise. It was not the power supply, nor even any of the LEDs themselves; the whole backlight wouldn’t turn on because of a cheap little PCB-to-PCB connector, and the two small spring contacts inside that had failed.

The failed connector, once cut open, showed contacts in poor condition (click to enlarge). It was ditched for a soldered connection, and the TV lived again.

From the outside things looked okay, but wiggling the connector made the backlight turn on and off, so the connection was clearly bad. Investigating further, [Tweepy] saw that the contact points of the PCBs and the two little conductors inside the connector showed clear signs of arcing and oxidation, leading to a poor connection that eventually failed, resulting in a useless TV. The fix wasn’t to clean the contacts; the correct fix was to replace the connector with a soldered connection.

Using that cheap little connector doubtlessly saved some assembly time at the factory, but it also led to failure within a fairly short amount of time. Had [Tweepy] not been handy with a screwdriver (or not bothered to investigate) the otherwise working TV would doubtlessly have ended up in a landfill.

It serves as a good reminder to make some time to investigate failures of appliances, even if one’s repair skills are limited, because the problem might be a simple one. Planned obsolescence is a tempting doorstep upon which to dump failures like this, but a good case can be made that planned obsolescence isn’t really a thing, even if manufacturers compromising products in one way or another certainly is.

Cheap PSoC Enables Electrochemistry Research

You may think electrochemistry sounds like an esoteric field where lab-coated scientists labor away over sophisticated instruments and publish papers that only other electrochemists could love. And you’d be right, but only partially, because electrochemistry touches almost everything in modern life. For proof of that look no further than your nearest pocket, assuming that’s where you keep your smartphone and the electrochemical cell that powers it.

Electrochemistry is the study of the electrical properties of chemical reactions and does indeed need sophisticated instrumentation. That doesn’t mean the instruments have to break the grant budget, though, as [Kyle Lopin] shows with this dead-simple potentiostat built with one chip and one capacitor. A potentiostat controls the voltage on an electrode in an electrochemical cell. Such cells have three electrodes — a working electrode, a reference electrode, and a counter electrode. The flow of electrons between these electrodes and through the solutions under study reveal important properties about the reduction and oxidation states of the reaction. Rather than connect his cell to an expensive potentiostat, [Kyle] used a Cypress programmable system-on-chip development board to do everything. All that’s needed is to plug the PSoC into a USB port for programming, connect the electrodes to GPIO pins, and optionally add a 100 nF capacitor to improve the onboard DAC’s accuracy. The video below covers the whole process, albeit with a barely audible voiceover.

Still not sure about electrochemistry? Check out this 2018 Hackaday Prize entry that uses the electrochemistry of life to bring cell phones back to life.

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Liquid Metal Changes Shape To Tune Antenna

Antennas can range from a few squiggles on a PCB to a gigantic Yagi on a tower. The basic laws of physics must be obeyed, though, and whatever form the antenna takes it all boils down to a conductor whose length resonates at a specific frequency. What works at one frequency is suboptimal at another, so an adjustable antenna would be a key component of a multi-band device. And a shape-shifting liquid metal antenna is just plain cool.

The first thing that pops into our head when we think of liquid metal is a silvery blob of mercury skittering inside the glass vial salvaged out of an old thermostat. The second image is a stern talking-to by the local HazMat team, so it’s probably best that North Carolina State University researchers [Michael Dickey] and [Jacob Adams] opted for gallium alloys for their experiments. Liquid at room temperature, these alloys have the useful property of oxidizing on contact with air and forming a skin. This allows the researchers to essentially extrude a conductor of any shape. What’s more, they can electrically manipulate the oxidative state of the metal and thereby the surface tension, allowing the conductor to change length on command. Bingo – an adjustable length antenna.

Radio frequency circuits aren’t the only application for gallium alloys. We’ve already seen liquid metal 3D printing with them. But we need to be careful, since controlling the surface tension of liquid metals might also bring us one step closer to this.