This Unique Flip-Flop Uses Chemistry And Lasers

One of the first logic circuits most of us learn about is the humble flip-flop. They’re easy enough to build with just a couple of NOR or NAND gates, and even building one up from discrete components isn’t too much of a chore. But building a flip-flop from chemicals and lasers is another thing entirely.

That’s the path [Markus Bindhammer] took for his photochromic molecular switch. We suspect this is less of an attempt at a practical optical logic component and more of a demonstration project, but either way, it’s pretty cool. Photochromism is the property by which molecules reversibly rearrange themselves and change color upon exposure to light, the most common example being glass that darkens automatically in the sun. This principle can be used to create an optical flip-flop, which [Markus] refers to as an “RS” type but we’re pretty sure he means “SR.”

The electronics for this are pretty simple, with two laser modules and their drivers, a power supply, and an Arduino to run everything. The optics are straightforward as well — a beam splitter that directs the beams from each laser onto the target, which is a glass cuvette filled with a clear epoxy resin mixed with a photochromic chemical. [Markus] chose spiropyran as the pigment, which when bathed in UV light undergoes an intramolecular carbon-oxygen bond breakage that turns it into the dark blue pigment merocyanine. Hitting the spot with a red laser or heating the cuvette causes the C-O bond to reform, fading the blue spot.

The video below shows the intensely blue dot spot developing under UV light and rapidly fading thanks to just the ambient temperature. To make the effect last longer, [Markus] cools the target with a spritz from a CO2 cartridge. We imagine other photochromic chemicals could also be employed here, as could some kind of photometric sensor to read the current state of the flip-flop. Even as it is, though, this is an interesting way to put chemistry and optics to work.

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Hackaday Podcast 027: Confusingly USB-C, Glowey Displays, Logically VGA, Hackers Who Changed Gaming

Hackaday Editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys dive into the most interesting hacks of the week. Confused by USB-C? So are we, and so is the Raspberry Pi 4. Learning VGA is a lot easier when abstract concepts are unpacked onto a huge breadboard using logic chips and an EEPROM. Adding vision to a prosthetic hand makes a lot of sense when you start to dig into possibilities of this Hackaday Prize entry. And Elliot gets nostalgic about Counter-Strike, the game that is a hack of Half-Life, grew to eclipse a lot of other shooters, and is now 20 years old.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (60 MB or so.)

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Photochromic Screen Makes For An Interesting Clock

The clock project will always be a hacker staple, giving the builder a great way to build something useful and express their individual flair. [Mosivers] was undertaking a build of their own and decided to go for a twist, creating a timepiece with a photochromic display.

The clock uses an Arduino Nano to run the show, hooked up to a 4-digit, 7-segment display that is custom built on protoboard. By using ultraviolet LEDs and placing them behind a reactive screen, it’s possible to create a unique display. The clock can be used with two different screens: a photochromic display created with UV-reactive PLA filament that turns purple when excited by UV light, and a glow-in-the-dark screen for night use.

It’s a fun twist on a simple clock design, and the purple-on-white digits are sure to raise some eyebrows among curious onlookers. Photochromic materials are fun to play with, and can make eggs and glass much more visually interesting. Video after the break.

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The Chemistry And Engineering Of DIY Photochromic Glass

[Ben Krasnow] is no stranger to exploring the more arcane corners of hackerdom, and the latest video on his “Applied Science” channel goes into a field few DIYers have touched: homemade glass, including the photochromic variety.

That DIY glassmaking remains a largely untapped vein is not surprising given what [Ben] learned over the last months of experimenting. With searing temperatures bordering on the unobtainable, volatile ingredients that evaporate before they can be incorporated, and a final product so reactive that a platinum crucible is the best vessel for the job, glassmaking is not easy, to say the least. Glassmaking doesn’t scale down from an industrial process very well, it seems. Nonetheless, [Ben] came up with a process that could be replicated using common enough ingredients and a simple electric kiln modded with a PID controller for pinpoint temperature setting. And while Luxottica has nothing to worry about yet, he did manage to get some clearly if subtly photochromic samples, despite the challenges.

Without a doubt, [Ben] crossed over into “mad scientist” territory a while back, and we think it’s great. What other way is there to describe a guy who has an electron microscope, a high-power ruby laser, a CT scanner, and a cookie making robot in his basement? Whatever you call it, we like the results.

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