Daniel Valuch Chats About CERN’s High Caliber Hacking

For those of us who like to crawl over complex systems, spending hours or even days getting hardware and software to work in concert, working at places like NASA or CERN seems like a dream job. Imagine having the opportunity to turn a wrench on the Space Shuttle or the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) — not only do you get to spend some quality time with some of the most advanced machines ever produced, you can be secure in the knowledge that your work will further humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe around us.

Or at least, that’s what we assume it must feel like as outsiders. But what about somebody who’s actually lived it? What does an actual employee, somebody who’s had to wake up in the middle of the night because some obscure system has gone haywire and stalled a machine that cost taxpayers $4.75 billion to build, think about working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research? Continue reading “Daniel Valuch Chats About CERN’s High Caliber Hacking”

A Single-Resistor Radio Transmitter, Thanks To The Power Of Noise

One of the great things about the Hackaday community is how quickly you find out what you don’t know. That’s not a bad thing, of course; after all, everyone is here to get smarter, right? So let’s work together to get our heads around this paper (PDF) by [Zerina Kapetanovic], [Miguel Morales], and [Joshua R. Smith] from the University of Washington, which purports to construct a low-throughput RF transmitter from little more than a resistor.

This witchcraft is made possible thanks to Johnson noise, also known as Johnson-Nyquist noise, which is the white noise generated by charge carriers in a conductor. In effect, the movement of electrons in a material thanks to thermal energy produces noise across the spectrum. Reducing interference from Johnson noise is why telescopes often have their sensors cooled to cryogenic temperatures. Rather than trying to eliminate Johnson noise, these experiments use it to build an RF transmitter, and with easily available and relatively cheap equipment. Continue reading “A Single-Resistor Radio Transmitter, Thanks To The Power Of Noise”

A DIY Pulse Tube Cryocooler In The Quest For Home-Made Liquid Nitrogen

What if you have a need for liquid nitrogen, but you do not wish to simply order it from a local supplier? In that case you can build your very own pulse tube cryocooler, as [Hyperspace Pirate] is in the process of doing over at YouTube. You can catch part 1 using a linear motor and part 2 using a reciprocating piston-based version also after the break. Although still very much a work-in-progress, the second version of the cryocooler managed to reduce the temperature to a chilly -75°C.

The pulse tube cryocooler is one of many types of systems used for creating a cooling effect. Commercially available refrigerators and freezers tend to use Rankine cycle coolers due to their low cost and effectiveness at (relatively) warmer temperatures. For cryogenic temperatures, Stirling engines are commonly used, although they find some use in refrigeration as well. All three share common elements, but they differ in their efficiency over a larger temperature range.

In this video series, the viewer is taken through the physics behind these coolers and the bottlenecks which prevent them from simply cooling down to zero Kelvin. Despite the deceptive simplicity of pulse tube cryocoolers — with just a single piston, a regenerator mesh, and some tubing — making them work well is an exercise in patience. We’re definitely looking forward to the future videos in this series as it develops.

Continue reading “A DIY Pulse Tube Cryocooler In The Quest For Home-Made Liquid Nitrogen”

How The Turntable Paradox Works

Leave most objects on top of a turntable, and set it spinning, and they’ll fly off in short order. Do the same with a ball, though, and it somehow manages to roll around on top for quite some time without falling off. [Steve Mould] set about unpacking this “Turntable Paradox” in a recent YouTube video.

In the basic case, the fact that the ball rolls is what keeps it on the turntable. As the turntable spins, the ball spins in the opposite direction, as per Newton’s first law of motion. As long as the ball is allowed to roll up to the same speed as the turntable, it will pretty much stay in place in the absence of any other perturbing forces. In the event the ball is nudged along the turntable, though, it quickly ends up in a more complicated circular motion, orbiting in a ratio to the speed of the turntable itself. [Steve] explains the mechanisms at play, and dives into the mathematics behind what’s going on.

Sometimes, demonstrations like these can seem like mere curiosities. However, understanding physical effects like these has been key to the development of all kinds of complicated and fantastical machinery. Video after the break.

Continue reading “How The Turntable Paradox Works”

Europe’s Energy Squeeze Pushes Large Hadron Collider To Halt Operations

Energy prices have been in the news more often than not lately, as has war. The two typically go together, as conflicts tend to impact on the supply and trade of fossil fuels.

With Europe short on gas and its citizens contemplating a cold winter, science is feeling the pinch, too. CERN has elected to shut down the Large Hadron Collider early to save electricity.

Continue reading “Europe’s Energy Squeeze Pushes Large Hadron Collider To Halt Operations”

Iron Nitrides: Powerful Magnets Without The Rare Earth Elements

Since their relatively recent appearance on the commercial scene, rare-earth magnets have made quite a splash in the public imagination. The amount of magnetic energy packed into these tiny, shiny objects has led to technological leaps that weren’t possible before they came along, like the vibration motors in cell phones, or the tiny speakers in earbuds and hearing aids. And that’s not to mention the motors in electric vehicles and the generators in wind turbines, along with countless medical, military, and scientific uses.

These advances come at a cost, though, as the rare earth elements needed to make them are getting harder to come by. It’s not that rare earth elements like neodymium are all that rare geologically; rather, deposits are unevenly distributed, making it easy for the metals to become pawns in a neverending geopolitical chess game. What’s more, extracting them from their ores is a tricky business in an era of increased sensitivity to environmental considerations.

Luckily, there’s more than one way to make a magnet, and it may soon be possible to build permanent magnets as strong as neodymium magnets, but without any rare earth metals. In fact, the only thing needed to make them is iron and nitrogen, plus an understanding of crystal structure and some engineering ingenuity.

Continue reading “Iron Nitrides: Powerful Magnets Without The Rare Earth Elements”

Does Hot Water Freeze Faster Than Cold? Debate Continues Over The Mpemba Effect

Does hot water freeze faster than cold water? On its face this idea seems like it should be ridiculously simple to test, and even easier to intuit, but this question has in fact had physicists arguing for decades.

Erasto Mpemba’s observations initiated decades of research into the Mpemba effect: whether a liquid (typically water) which is initially hot can freeze faster than the same liquid which begins cold.

There’s a name for the phenomenon of something hot freezing faster than something cold: the Mpemba effect,  named for Erasto Mpemba (pictured above) who as a teenager in Tanzania witnessed something strange in high school in the 1960s. His class was making ice cream, and in a rush to secure the last available ice tray, Mpemba skipped waiting for his boiled milk-and-sugar mixture to cool to room temperature first, like everyone else had done. An hour and a half later, his mixture had frozen into ice cream whereas the other students’ samples remained a thick liquid slurry.

Puzzled by this result, Mpemba asked his physics teacher what was going on. He was told “You were confused. That cannot happen.” Mpemba wasn’t convinced by that answer, and his observations ultimately led to decades of research.

What makes this question so hard to nail down? Among many of the issues complicating exactly how to measure such a thing is that water frankly has some odd properties; it is less dense as a solid, and it is also possible for its solid and liquid phases to exist at the same temperature. Also, water in the process of freezing is not in equilibrium, and how exactly things act as they relax into equilibrium is a process for which — physics-wise — we lack a good theory. Practically speaking, it’s also a challenge how to even accurately and meaningfully measure the temperature of a system that is not in equilibrium.

But there is experimental evidence showing that the Mpemba effect can occur, at least in principle. How this can happen seems to come down to the idea that a hot system (having more energy) is able to occupy and explore more configurations, potentially triggering states that act as a kind of shortcut or bypass to a final equilibrium. In this way, something that starts further away from final equilibrium could overtake something starting from closer.

But does the Mpemba effect actually exist — for example, in water — in a meaningful way? Not everyone is convinced, but if nothing else, it has sure driven a lot of research into nonequilibrium systems.

Why not try your own hand at investigating the Mpemba effect? After all, working to prove someone wrong is a time-honored pastime of humanity, surpassed only in popularity by the tradition of dismissing others’ findings, observations, or results without lifting a finger of your own. Just remember to stick to the scientific method. After all, people have already put time and effort into seriously determining whether magnets clean clothes better than soap, so surely the Mpemba effect is worth some attention.