Hackaday Podcast 079: Wobble Sphere, Pixelflut, Skeeter Traps, And Tracing Apps

Hackaday editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams gaze upon the most eye-popping projects from the past week. Who would have known that springy doorstops could be so artistic? Speaking of art, what happens if you give everyone on the network the chance to collectively paint using pixels? There as better way to catch a rat, and a dubious way to lure mosquitoes. We scratch our heads at sending code to the arctic, and Elliot takes a deep look at the contact tracing apps developed and in use throughout Europe.

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!

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Electrochemistry At Home

A few years ago, I needed a teeny, tiny potentiostat for my biosensor research.¬†I found a ton of cool example projects on Hackaday and on HardwareX, but they didn’t quite fulfill exactly what I needed. As any of you would do in this type of situation, I decided to build my own device.

Now, we’ve talked about potentiostats before. These are the same devices used in commercial glucometers, so they are widely applicable to a number of biosensing applications. In my internet perusing, I stumbled upon a cool chip from Texas Instruments called the LMP91000 that initially appeared to do all the hard work for me. Unfortunately, there were a few features of the LMP91000 that were a bit limiting and didn’t quite give me the range of flexibility I required for my research. You see, electrochemistry works by biasing a set of electrodes at a given potential and subsequently driving a chemical reaction. The electron transfer is measured by the sensing electrode and converted to a voltage using a transimpedance amplifier (TIA). Commercial potentiostats can have voltage bias generators with microVolt resolution, but I only needed about ~1 mV or so. The problem was, the LMP91000 has a resolution of ~66 mV on a 3.3 V supply, mandating that I augment the LMP991000 with an external digital-to-analog converter (DAC) as others had done.

However, changing the internal reference of the LMP91000 with the DAC confounded the voltage measurements from the TIA, since the TIA is also referenced to the same internal zero as the voltage bias generator. This seemed like a problem other DIY solutions I came across should have mentioned, but I didn’t quite find any other papers describing this problem. After punching myself a little, I thought that maybe it was a bit more obvious to everyone else except me. It can be like that sometimes. Oh well, it was a somewhat easy fix that ended up making my little potentiostat even more capable than I had originally imagined.

I could have made a complete custom potentiostat circuit like a few other examples I stumbled upon, but the integrated aspect of the LMP91000 was a bit too much to pass up. My design needed to be as small as possible since I would eventually like to integrate the device into a wearable. I was using a SAMD21 microcontroller with a built-in DAC, therefore remedying the problem was a bit more convenient than I originally thought since I didn’t need an additional chip in my design.

I am definitely pretty happy with the results. My potentiostat, called KickStat, is about the size of a US quarter dollar with a ton of empty space that could be easily trimmed on my next board revision. I imagine this could be used as a subsystem in any number of larger designs like a glucometer, cellphone, or maybe even a smartwatch.

Check out all the open-source files on my research lab’s GitHub page. I hope my experience will be of assistance to the hacker community. Definitely a fun build and I hope you all get as much kick out of it as I did.

CheapStat: An Open-source Potentiostat

A commercial potentiostat can cost several thousand dollars, but the CheapStat is an open source project that makes it possible to build your own at a tiny fraction of that cost. It is possible to build one for less than $80, breaking down the cost barrier faced by many labs that would like to have this test hardware.

A potentiostat is used to measure electrochemical properties. To give you a few examples of what it can do, the hardware can measure arsenic levels in water, Vitamin C concentration in orange juice, Acetaminophen concentrations in over-the-counter medications, and a bunch of other less easily explained tests having to do with chemical compounds and DNA.

The device makes use of an Atmel XMEGA microcontroller and connects to a computer via USB. A Java program grabs that data from the hardware displaying test results on your choice of computer platforms. If you’re looking for all the gory details you won’t be disappointed by their journal paper.