Remoticon 2021 // Jay Bowles Dips Into The Plasmaverse

Every hacker out there is familiar with the zaps and sizzles of the Tesla coil, or the crash and thunder of lighting strikes on our hallowed Earth. These phenomena all involve the physics of plasma, a subject near and dear to Jay Bowles’s heart. Thus, he graced Remoticon 2021 with a enlightening talk taking us on a Dip Into the Plasmaverse.

Jay’s passion for the topic is obvious, having fallen in love with high voltage physics as a teenager. He appreciated how tangible the science was, whether it’s the glow of neon lighting or the heating magic of the common microwave. His talk covers the experiments and science that he’s studied over the past 17 years and in the course of running his Plasma Channel YouTube channel. Continue reading “Remoticon 2021 // Jay Bowles Dips Into The Plasmaverse”

Exploring The Healing Power Of Cold Plasma

It probably won’t come as much surprise to find that a blast of hot plasma can be used to sterilize a surface. Unfortunately, said surface is likely going to look a bit worse for wear afterwards, which limits the usefulness of this particular technique. But as it turns out, it’s possible to generate a so-called “cold” plasma that offers the same cleansing properties in a much friendlier form.

While it might sound like science fiction, prolific experimenter [Jay Bowles] was able to create a reliable source of nonthermal plasma for his latest Plasma Channel video with surprisingly little in the way of equipment. Assuming you’ve already got a device capable of pumping out high-voltage, all you really need to recreate this phenomenon is a tank of helium and some tubing.

Cold plasma stopped bacterial growth in the circled area.

[Jay] takes viewers through a few of the different approaches he tried before finally settling on the winning combination of a glass pipette with a copper wire run down the center. When connected to a party store helium tank and the compact Slayer Exciter coil he built last year, the setup produced a focused jet of plasma that was cool enough to touch.

It’s beautiful to look at, but is a pretty light show all you get for your helium? To see if his device was capable of sterilizing surfaces, he inoculated a set of growth plates with bacteria collected from his hands and exposed them to the cold plasma stream. Compared to the untreated control group the reduction in bacterial growth certainly looks compelling, although the narrow jet does have a very localized effect.

If you’re just looking to keep your hands clean, some soap and warm water are probably a safer bet. But this technology does appear to have some fascinating medical applications, and as [Jay] points out, the European Space Agency has been researching the concept for some time now. Who knows? In the not so distant future, you may see a similar looking gadget at your doctor’s office. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time space-tested tech came down to us Earthlings.

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A Builders Guide For The Perfect Solid-State Tesla Coil

[Zach Armstrong] presents for your viewing pleasure a simple guide to building a solid-state Tesla coil. The design is based around a self-resonant setup using the UCC2742x gate driver IC, which is used in a transformer-coupled full-wave configuration for delivering maximum power from the line input. The self-resonant bit is implemented by using a small antenna nearby the coil to pick up the EM field, and by suitably clamping and squaring it up, it is fed back into the gate driver to close the feedback loop. Such a setup within reason allows the circuit to oscillate with a wide range of Tesla coil designs, and track any small changes, minimizing the need for fiddly manual tuning that is the usual path you follow building these things.

Since the primary is driven with IGBTs, bigger is better. If the coil is too small, the resonant frequency would surpass the recommended 400 kHz, which could damage the IGBTs since they can’t switch much faster with the relatively large currents needed. An important part of designing Tesla coil driver circuits is matching the primary coil to the driver. You could do worse than checkout JavaTC to help with the calculations, as this is an area of the design where mistakes often result in destructive failure. The secondary coil design is simpler, where a little experimentation is needed to get the appropriate degree of coil coupling. Too much coupling is unhelpful, as you’ll just get breakdown between the two sides. Too little coupling and efficiency is compromised. This is why you often see a Tesla coil with a sizeable gap between the primary and secondary coils. There is a science to this magic!

Pretty Lithium Carbonate plasma

A 555 timer wired to produce adjustable pulses feeds into the driver enable to allow easily changing the discharge properties. This enables it to produce discharges that look a bit like a Van De Graaff discharge at one extreme, and produce some lovely plasma ‘fire’ at the other.

We’ve covered Tesla coils from many angles over the years, recently this plasma tweeter made sweet sounds, and somehow we missed an insanely dangerous Tesla build by [StyroPyro] just checkout that rotary spark gap – from a distance.

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Garage Semiconductor Fab Gets Reactive-Ion Etching Upgrade

It’s a problem that few of us will likely ever face: once you’ve built your first homemade integrated circuit, what do you do next? If you’re [Sam Zeloof], the answer is clear: build better integrated circuits.

At least that’s [Sam]’s plan, which his new reactive-ion etching setup aims to make possible. While his Z1 dual differential amplifier chip was a huge success, the photolithography process he used to create the chip had its limitations. The chemical etching process he used is a bit fussy, and prone to undercutting of the mask if the etchant seeps underneath it. As its name implies, RIE uses a plasma of highly reactive ions to do the etching instead, resulting in finer details and opening the door to using more advanced materials.

[Sam]’s RIE rig looks like a plumber’s stainless steel nightmare, in the middle of which sits a vacuum chamber for the wafer to be etched. After evacuating the air, a small amount of fluorinated gas — either carbon tetrafluoride or the always entertaining sulfur hexafluoride — is added to the chamber. A high-voltage feedthrough provides the RF energy needed to create a plasma, which knocks fluorine ions out of the process gas. The negatively charged and extremely reactive fluorine ions are attracted to the wafer, where they attack and etch away the surfaces that aren’t protected by a photoresist layer.

It all sounds simple enough, but the video below reveals the complexity. There are a lot of details, like correctly measuring vacuum, avoiding electrocution, keeping the vacuum pump oil from exploding, and dealing with toxic waste products. Hats off to [Sam’s dad] for pitching in to safely pipe the exhaust gases through the garage door. This ties with [Huygens Optics]’s latest endeavor for the “coolest things to do with fluorine” award.

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Plasma Discharges Show You Where The Radiation Is

Depending on the context of the situation, the staccato clicks or chirps of a Geiger counter can be either comforting or alarming. But each pip is only an abstraction, an aural indication of when a particle or ray of ionizing radiation passed through a detector. Knowing where that happened might be important, too, under the right circumstances.

While this plasma radiation detector is designed more as a demonstration, it does a pretty good job at localizing where ionization events are happening. Designed and built by [Jay Bowles], the detector is actually pretty simple. Since [Jay] is the type of fellow with plenty of spare high-voltage power supplies lying around, he took a 6 kV flyback supply from an old build and used it here. The detector consists of a steel disk underneath a network of fine wires. Perched atop a frame of acrylic and powered by a 9 V battery, the circuit puts high-voltage across the plate and the wires. After a substantial amount of tweaking, [Jay] got it adjusted so that passing alpha particles from a sample of americium-241 left an ionization trail between the conductors, leading to a miniature lightning bolt.

In the video below, the detector sounds very similar to a Geiger counter, but with the added benefit of a built-in light show. We like the way it looks and works, although we’d perhaps advise a little more caution to anyone disassembling a smoke detector. Especially if you’re taking apart Soviet-era smoke alarms — you might get more than you bargained for.

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Electric Candle Replaces Flame With Plasma

Ah, the charm of candlelight! Nothing says “romance” — or “extended power outage” — like the warm, soft glow of a real candle. But if you’re not a fan of burning wax for whatever reason, this electric plasma candle may be just the thing to build for your next dinner for two.

This re-imagining of the humble candle comes to us by way of plasma super-fan [Jay Bowles], who has a lot of experience with plasmas and the high-voltage circuits that often go along with them. Even so, he had to enlist help with the circuit, with is essentially a 10-MHz Class-E oscillator, from [Leon] at the Teslaundmehr channel on YouTube. The most prominent feature of the build is the big resonator coil, surrounded by the shorter primary coil and sitting atop the heatsink for the MOSFET driver. [Jay]’s usual acrylic-rich style is well represented here, and the resulting build is quite lovely.

The tuning process, though, sounds like it was pure torture. It took a lot of tweaking — and a lot of MOSFETs — to get the candle to produce a stable flame. But once it did, the results were striking. The plasma coming off the breakout point on the resonator coil is pretty much the same size, shape, and — occasionally — the color as a candle flame. It’s also hot enough to do some damage, so do be careful if you build this. We’ve included both [Jay]’s and [Leon]’s videos below; [Leon]’s has great step-by-step build instructions.

We’ve been following [Jay]’s journey through the plasmaverse for a while now, from his cheap and simple Tesla coils to using corona discharge to clean his hands. He even hosted a Hack Chat on the subject last year.

Note: [Jay] reached out to us after publication about mitigating RF noise. He does his experiments inside a steel-reinforced concrete building with grounded metal screens over the windows. An RF-wizard friend has checked across the spectrum and detected no leaks to the outside. Sounds like the business to us.

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Micromachining Glass With A Laser — Very, Very Slowly

When it comes to machining, the material that springs to mind is likely to be aluminum, steel, or plastic. We don’t necessarily think of glass as a material suitable for machining, at least not in the chuck-it-up-in-the-lathe sense. But glass is a material that needs to be shaped, too, and there are a bunch of different ways to accomplish that. Few, though, are as interesting as micromachining glass with laser-induced plasma bubbles. (Video, embedded below.)

The video below is from [Zachary Tong]. It runs a bit on the longish side, but we found it just chock full of information. The process, formally known as “laser-induced backside wet-etching,” uses a laser to blast away at a tank of copper sulfate. When a piece of glass is suspended on the surface of the solution and the laser is focused through the glass from the top, some interesting things happen.

The first pulse of the laser vaporizes the solution and decomposes the copper sulfate. Copper adsorbs onto the glass surface inside the protective vapor bubble, which lasts long enough for a second laser pulse to come along. That pulse heats up the adsorbed copper and the vapor in the original bubble, enough to melt a tiny bit of the glass. As the process is repeated, small features are slowly etched into the underside of the glass. [Zachary] demonstrates all this in the video, as well as what can go wrong when the settings are a bit off. There’s also some great high-speed footage of the process that’s worth the price of admission alone.

We doubt this process will be a mainstream method anytime soon, not least because it requires a 50-Watt Nd:YAG fiber laser. But it’s an interesting process that reminds us of [Zachary]’s other laser explorations, like using a laser and Kapton to make graphene supercapacitors.

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