Cold Plasma Torch Produces A Cleansing Flame That Never Consumes

It’s basically a lightsaber. Except smaller. And with an invisible blade. And cold to the touch. But other than that, this homebrew cold plasma torch (YouTube, embedded below) is just like the Jedi’s choice in elegant weaponry.

Perhaps we shouldn’t kid [Justin] given how hard he worked on this project – seventeen prototypes before hitting on the version seen in the video below – but he himself notes the underwhelming appearance of the torch without the benefit of long-exposure photography. That doesn’t detract from how cool this build is, pun intended. As [Justin] explains, cold plasma or non-equilibrium plasma is an ionized stream of gas where the electron temperature is much hotter than the temperature of the heavier, more thermally conductive species in the stream. It’s pretty common stuff, seen commercially in everything from mercury vapor lamps to microbial sterilization.

It’s the latter use that piqued [Justin]’s interest and resulted in a solid year of prototyping before dialing in a design using a flyback transformer to delivery the high voltage to a stream of argon flowing inside a capillary tube. The quartz tube acts as a dielectric that keeps electrons from escaping and allows argon to be ionized and wafted gently from the tube before it can reach thermal equilibrium. The result is a faint blue glowing flame that’s barely above room temperature but still has all the reactive properties of a plasma. The video shows all the details of construction and shows the torch in action.

Hats off to [Justin] for sticking with a difficult build and coming through it with an interesting and useful device. We’ve no doubt he’ll put it to good use in his DIY biohacking lab in the coming months.

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Grape Plasma Explained

You’ve probably seen the videos of a grape — cut almost totally in half — in a microwave creates a plasma. A recent physics paper studies the phenomenon with a lot of high-tech gear and now the actual mechanism is known. [Veritasium] interviews the scientists and explains the grape plasma phenomenon in plain language. You can see the video below or read the paper directly.

Turns out the grape is about 1/10 of the microwave frequency and the refractive index of the grape at microwave frequencies might be as much as ten. A whole grape can get all the microwaves trapped inside, but two grapes — or two halves — that touch create fields strong enough to ionize the air.

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DIY Arc Light Makes An Unnecessarily Powerful Bicycle Headlight

Remember when tricking out a bike with a headlight meant clamping a big, chrome, bullet-shaped light to your handlebar and bolting a small generator to your front fork? Turning on the headlight meant flipping the generator into contact with the front wheel, powering the incandescent bulb for the few feet it took for the drag thus introduced to grind you to a halt. This ridiculous arc-lamp bicycle headlight is not that. Not by a long shot.

We’re used to seeing [Alex] doing all manner of improbable, and sometimes impossible, things on his popular KREOSAN YouTube channel. And we’re also used to watching his videos in Russian, which detracts not a whit  from the entertainment value for Andglophones; subtitles are provided for the unadventurous, however. The electrodes for his arc light are graphite brushes from an electric streetcar, while the battery is an incredibly sketchy-looking collection of 98 18650 lithium-ion cells. A scary rat’s nest of coiled cable acts as a ballast to mitigate the effects of shorting when the arc is struck. The reflector is an old satellite TV dish covered in foil tape with the electrodes sitting in a makeshift holder where the feedhorn used to be. It’s bright, it’s noisy, it’s dangerous, and it smokes like a fiend, but we love it.

Mounting it to the front of the bike was just for fun, of course, and it works despite the janky nature of the construction. The neighbors into whose apartments the light was projected could not be reached for comment, but we assume they were as amused as we were.

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Add Some Edge To Your Blades With Blown-Arc Plasma

If you polled science fiction fans on what piece of technology portrayed by the movies that they most desire, chances are pretty good that the lightsabers from the Star Wars franchise would be near the top of the list. There’s just something about having that much power in the palm of your hand and still needing to be up close and personal to fight with it. Plus being able to melt holes in bulkheads is pretty keen, as are the cool sounds.

Sadly, the day we can shape and contain plasma in a blade-shaped field is probably pretty far off, but that didn’t stop [Alan Pan] from trying the next best thing: a handheld plasma-projecting blade. He starts with a basic Jacob’s ladder. We’ve seen many of these before, but the basic idea is to ionize the air between two parallel, vertical conductors; the hot plasma heats the air causing it to rise until it reaches the top and snuffs itself out, starting the process over again at the bottom. His twist is to force the plasma into a sheet between the electrodes with air from a leaf blower, forming a blown-arc plasma. That’s pretty cool looking by itself, but he also stretched the electrodes along razor-sharp wood planer blades, for extra danger. We have to admit that the thing looks pretty intimidating, even if the plasma doesn’t really pack bulkhead-melting thermal power. Check out the results in the video below.

We’d love to see [Alan] make good on his promise to make the whole thing self-contained with an electric ducted fan or mini jet engine. Even as it is, it’s still pretty neat. It’s not really his first lightsaber rodeo, but at least this one doesn’t need butane.

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Plasma Etching In A Microwave

Deep inside your smartphone are a handful of interesting miniature electromechanical devices. The accelerometer is a MEMS device, and was produced with some of the most impressive industrial processes on the planet. Sometimes, these nanoscale devices are produced with plasma etching, which sounds about as cool as it actually is. Once the domain of impossibly expensive industrial processes, you can now plasma etch materials in a microwave.

Of course, making plasma in this way is nothing new. If you cut a grape in half and plop it in a microwave, some really cool stuff happens. This is just the 6th grade science class demonstration of what a plasma is, and really it’s only a few dissociated water, oxygen, and nitrogen molecules poofing in a microwave. To do something useful with this plasma, you need a slightly more controlled environment.

The researchers behind this paper used a small flask with an evacuated atmosphere (about 300 mTorr) placed into a microwave for a few seconds. The experiments consisted of reducing graphene oxide to graphene, with the successful production of small squares of graphene bonded to PET film. Other experiments changed the optical properties of a zinc oxide film deposited onto a glass microscope slide and changing a PDMS film from being hydroscopic to hydrophobic.

While the results speak for themselves — you can use a microwave to generate plasma, and that plasma can change the properties of any exposed material — this is far from a real industrial process. That said, it’s good enough for an experiment and another neat technique in the home lab’s bag of tricks.

A Plasma Speaker Using A TL494

We’re used to loudspeakers as circular components with a paper cone and a big magnet inside which is suspended a coil that is connected to our audio amplifier. But moving-coil speakers are not the only way to create sound from electricity, there are one or two other weapons in the audio designer’s arsenal.

One of the more spectacular and entertaining is the plasma speaker, and it’s one [Marcin Wachowiak] has been experimenting with. A continuous plasma in the form of a discharge between two electrodes is modulated with an audio signal, and the resulting rapid changes in the volume of plasma creates a sound. The value of a plasma speaker lies in the exceptionally low size and mass of the element producing the sound, meaning that while it can only effectively reproduce high frequencies it can do so from a much closer approximation to a point source than can other types of tweeter. For this reason it’s beloved of some audiophiles, and you will find a few commercially produced plasma tweeters at the high-end of the audio market.

[Marcin] isn’t in it for the audiophilia, instead he’s interested in the properties of the plasma. His plasma speaker does do the job well though, and in particular he’s put a lot of thought into the design of its drive circuit. At its heart is the ubiquitous TL494 PWM controller that you may be more familiar with in the context of switching power supplies, this one applies the audio drive as PWM to the gate of a MOSFET that switches the primary of a flyback transformer. He’s added refinements such as a gate discharge circuit and a second primary winding with a freewheel diode.

The result is an effective plasma speaker. It’s difficult to judge from his YouTube video below the break whether he’s achieved audiophile purity, but happily that’s not the point. We’ve shown you a few other plasma speakers in our time, if the subject interests you then take a look at this rotating plasma vortex, or a version using a 555 timer.

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A Dramatic Demo Of AC Versus DC Switching

Switches seem to be the simplest of electrical components – just two pieces of metal that can be positioned to either touch each other or not. As such it would seem that it shouldn’t matter whether a switch is used for AC or DC. While that’s an easy and understandable assumption, it can also be a dangerous one, as this demo of AC and DC switching dramatically reveals.

Using a very simple test setup, consisting of an electric heater for a load, a variac to control the voltage, and a homemade switch, [John Ward] walks us through the details of what happens when those contacts get together. With low-voltage AC, the switch contacts exhibit very little arcing, and even with the voltage cranked up all the way, little more than a brief spark can be seen on either make or break. Then [John] built a simple DC supply with a big rectifier and a couple of capacitors to smooth things out and went through the same tests. Even at a low DC voltage, the arc across the switch contacts was dramatic, particularly upon break. With the voltage cranked up to the full 240-volts of the UK mains, [John]’s switch was essentially a miniature arc welder, with predictable results as the plastic holding the contacts melted. Don your welding helmet and check out the video below.

As dramatic as the demo is, it doesn’t mean we won’t ever be seeing DC in the home. It just means that a little extra engineering is needed to make sure that all the components are up to snuff.

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