Harvesting Energy from the Earth with Quantum Tunneling

More energy hits the earth in sunlight every day than humanity could use in about 16,000 years or so, but that hasn’t stopped us from trying to tap into other sources of energy too. One source that shows promise is geothermal, but these methods have been hindered by large startup costs and other engineering challenges. A new way to tap into this energy source has been found however, which relies on capturing the infrared radiation that the Earth continuously gives off rather than digging large holes and using heat exchangers.

This energy is the thermal radiation that virtually everything gives off in some form or another. The challenge in harvesting this energy is that since the energy is in the infrared range, exceptionally tiny antennas are needed which will resonate at that frequency. It isn’t just fancy antennas, either; a new type of diode had to be manufactured which uses quantum tunneling to convert the energy into DC electricity.

While the scientists involved in this new concept point out that this is just a prototype at this point, it shows promise and could be a game-changer since it would allow clean energy to be harvested whenever needed, and wouldn’t rely on the prevailing weather. While many clean-energy-promising projects often seem like pipe dreams, we can’t say it’s the most unlikely candidate for future widespread adoption we’ve ever seen.

The Physics of Healing: Radiation Therapy

Few days are worse than a day when you hear the words, “I’m sorry, you have cancer.” Fear of the unknown, fear of pain, and fear of death all attend the moment when you learn the news, and nothing can prepare you for the shock of learning that your body has betrayed you. It can be difficult to know there’s something growing inside you that shouldn’t be there, and the urge to get it out can be overwhelming.

Sometimes there are surgical options, other times not. But eradicating the tumor is not always the job of a surgeon. Up to 60% of cancer patients will be candidates for some sort of radiation therapy, often in concert with surgery and chemotherapy. Radiation therapy can be confusing to some people — after all, doesn’t radiation cause cancer? But modern radiation therapy is a remarkably precise process that can selectively kill tumor cells while leaving normal tissue unharmed, and the machines we’ve built to accomplish the job are fascinating tools that combine biology and engineering to help people deal with a dreaded diagnosis.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: An Open Radiation Detector

For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Carlos] is pushing the boundaries of what can be built with PCBs. He’s designed a very low-cost radiation detector that leverages pick and place machines, off-the-shelf components, and very simple electronics. It’s a novel ion chamber design, and if you ever needed a low-cost, easily manufacturable radiation detector, this is the project you want.

Instead of a Geiger tube or a spark detectors, this radiation detector uses an ionization chamber to detect radiation. This project was inspired by the work of [Charles Wenzel] and [Alan Yates], and the implementation is actually pretty simple. A metal can — or some other type of enclosure — is electrified, and a single wire is stuck right into the middle of the can. When alpha and beta particles enter the can, air molecules are ionized, and attracted to either the can or the wire by a difference in voltage. A tiny bit of current flows between the can and the wire, which can be detected if you have a sufficiently sensitive circuit.

The basic idea is well-publicised and well-understood. What [Carlos] is doing with this project is making an ionization chamber easily manufacturable. He’s doing this entirely with standard PCBs and solder instead of paint cans, RF connectors, and deadbugged transistors of the earlier experiments. The resulting PCB actually looks like something that wasn’t put together in a garage (even though it probably was), and is an amazing entry for the Hackaday Prize.

Global Thermonuclear War: Tweeted

[Andreas Spiess] did a video earlier this year about fallout shelters. So it makes sense now he’s interested in having a Geiger counter connected to the network. He married a prefabricated counter with an ESP32. If it were just that simple, it wouldn’t be very remarkable, but [Andreas] also reverse-engineered the schematic for the counter and discusses the theory of operation, too. You can see the full video, below.

We often think we don’t need a network-connected soldering iron or toaster. However, if you have a radiological event, getting a cell phone alert might actually be useful. Of course, if that event was the start of World War III, you probably aren’t going to get the warning, but a reactor gas release or something similar would probably make this worth the $50.

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Best Product Entry: Open Source Internet of Dosimeter

[Radu Motisan] Has entered a cool project into the Best Product portion of this year’s Hackaday Prize. It’s called an Open Source IoT Dosimeter. It has a Geiger tube for detecting radiation levels along with Internet connectivity and a host of other goodies.

Dubbed the KIT1, this IoT dosimeter can be used as a portable radiation detector with its Nokia 5110 LCD as an output or a monitoring station with Ethernet. With its inbuilt speaker, it alerts users to areas with excessive radiation. KIT1 is a fully functioning system with no need for a computer to get readouts, making it very handy and easy to use. It also has room for expansion for extra sensors allowing a fully customized system. The project includes all the Gerbers and a BOM so you can send it off to a PCB fab lab of your choice, solder on a few components, and have a fully functioning IoT Dosimeter. you don’t even need the LCD or the Ethernet; you can choose which output you prefer from the two and just use that allowing for some penny-pinching.

This is a great project and who doesn’t need an IOT Dosimeter these days?

A Brief History of Radioactivity

More than one hundred years ago, Henri Becquerel discovered that uranium emitted penetrating rays similar to those used by Wilhelm Röntgen to take the first X-ray image (of his wife’s hand), starting a new era of far-reaching applications. There are of course many dangers that come with the use of radioactivity, but there are also many beneficial uses for our society.

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Heat Shrink Tubing and the Chemistry Behind Its Magic

There’s a lot to be said in favor of getting kids involved in hacking as young as possible, but there is one thing about working in electronics that I believe is best left as a mystery until at least the teenage years — hide the shrink tube. Teach them to breadboard, have them learn resistor color codes and Ohm’s Law, and even teach them to solder. But don’t you dare let them near the heat shrink tubing. Foolishly reveal that magical stuff to kids, and if there’s a heat source anywhere nearby I guarantee they’ll blow through your entire stock of the expensive stuff the minute you turn your back. Ask me how I know.

I jest, but only partly. There really is something fun about applying heat shrink tubing, and there’s no denying how satisfying a termination can be when it’s hermetically sealed inside that little piece of inexplicably expensive tubing. But how does the stuff even work in the first place?

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