Young Inventor Builds Motor Without Rare Earths

[Robert Sansone] is a 17-year-old from Florida and, like most of us, he likes to tinker. He’s apparently got the time for it because he’s completed at least 60 projects ranging from animatronic hands to a high-speed go-kart. However, his interest in electric vehicles coupled with his understanding of the issues around them led him to investigate synchronous reluctance motors — motors that don’t depend on expensive rare earth magnets. His experiments have led to a novel form of motor that has greater torque than existing designs.

Rare earths are powerful but expensive, costing much more than common metals like copper or steel. Traditionally, synchronous reluctance motors use steel rotors and air gaps and exploit the difference in reluctance — a term for magnetic resistance– to generate rotation. [Robert’s] idea was to replace the air gap with a different material to increase the ratio of reluctance between the rotor and the gap. Reconfiguring the motor to a more traditional configuration shows startling results: the new design generated almost 40% more torque and did so more efficiently, as well.

His work has earned him first prize, and $75,000, in this year’s Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair. It took 15 tries to get the motor to its current state, something made easier with 3D printing. There are plans for a 16th version that [Robert] hopes will perform even better. We can’t wait to see what he’ll do next.

Electric vehicles have made people look into many motor design topologies. The reluctance motor has been around for a long time, but controlling them has become significantly easier. That’s true of many kinds of motors.

Continue reading “Young Inventor Builds Motor Without Rare Earths”

A Simple Science Fair AM Transmitter

A crystal radio is a common enough science fair project, but the problem is, there isn’t much on anymore. The answer is, of course, obvious: build your own AM transmitter, too. AM modulation isn’t that hard to do and [Science Buddies] has plans for how to build one with a canned oscillator and an audio transformer.

We don’t imagine the quality of this would be so good, but for a kid’s science project it might be worth a shot. Maybe something like “What kind of materials block radio waves?” would be a good project statement.

Continue reading “A Simple Science Fair AM Transmitter”

Relive Radio Shack’s Glory Days By Getting Goofy

The Golden Age of Radio Shack was probably sometime in the mid-1970s, a time when you could just pop into the local store and pay 49 cents for the resistors you needed to complete a project. Radio Shack was the place to go for everything from hi-fi systems to CB radios, and for many of us, being inside one was very much a kid in a candy store scenario.

That’s not to say that Radio Shack was perfect, but one thing it did very well was the education and grooming of the next generation of electronics hobbyists, primarily through their “Science Fair” brand. Some of us will recall the P-Box kits from that line, complete projects with all the parts and instructions in a plastic box with a perfboard top. These kits were endlessly entertaining and educational, and now [NetZener] has recreated the classic neon “Goofy Light” P-Box project.

As it was back in the day, the Goofy Light is almost entirely useless except for learning about DC-DC converters, multivibrators, RC timing circuits, and the weird world of negative resistance. But by using the original Science Fair instructions, compiling a BOM that can be filled from Mouser or Digikey, and making up a reasonable facsimile of the original P-Box chassis, [NetZener] has done a service to anyone looking for a little dose of nostalgia.

It would be interesting if someone brought back the P-Box experience as a commercial venture, offering a range of kits with circuits like the originals. If that happens, maybe some of the offerings will be based on that other classic from Radio Shack’s heyday.

Continue reading “Relive Radio Shack’s Glory Days By Getting Goofy”

Hackaday Prize Entry: Measuring 3D Magnetic Fields

Sometimes you have to start out with big goals. Ninth-graders [Finja Schneider] and [Myrijam Stoetzer] are aiming to make a magnetic field scanner that would be helpful in finding large underground metallic objects, like unexploded WWII bombs that pose a real threat whenever a new parking garage is excavated in Germany. But even big goals have to start out somewhere, so they’re gaining experience with the sensors and the math necessary to recreate 3D magnetic flux vector fields on household objects like sawblades and magnetized screwdrivers.

Magnetized screwdriver in the "valley"
Magnetized screwdriver in the “valley”

For their science-fair project, [Finja] and [Myrijam] took a mid-80s fischertechnik “toy” 2D scanner kit, mounted a 3D magnetic sensor to it, and wrote some firmware to scan around and pass the data back to a computer where they reconstructed the field lines and made some nice visualizations. Along the way, they tried a number of designs, from a DIY chassis on carbon-fiber rails to sensors with ferrofluid. They document their successes and failures equally nicely in their lab report (PDF, German). You can get a lot of the gist, however, from [Myrijam]’s blog and their entry.

You might also recognize [Myrijam] from her work with [Paul Foltin] on their eye-controlled wheelchair interface. These are some really cool projects! We’re excited to see how they develop, and are stoked that the future of hacking is in such capable hands.

A Modern But Classic Enigma Machine

Hacking has always brought more good to the world than not hacking. The successful efforts of the Allies during World War II in deciphering the Enigma machine output still reminds us of that. Today, the machine is a classic example of cryptography and bare-metal computing.

We have covered quite a few DIY Enigma machines in the past, yet 14 years old [Andy] really impressed us with his high school science fair project, a scratch built, retro-modern Enigma machine.

Continue reading “A Modern But Classic Enigma Machine”

Morse Code Waterfall Is Cooler Than Your Fifth Grade Science Fair Project

For her science fair project, [David]’s daughter had thoughts about dipping eggs in coffee, or showing how dangerous soda is to the unsuspecting tooth. Boring. Instead she employed her father to help her build a Morse Code waterfall.

A more civilized wea-- tool from a more elegant age. Young Jed--engineer.
A more civilized wea– tool from a more elegant age. Young Jed–Engineer.

[David] worked with his daughter to give her the lego bricks of knowledge needed, but she did the coding, building, and, apparently, wire-wrapping herself. Impressive!

She did the trick with two Arduinos. One controls a relay that dumps a stream of water. The other watches with an optical interrupt made from an infrared emitter and detector pair to get the message.

To send a message, type it in the keyboard. The waterfall will drop spurts of water, and then show the message on the decoder display. Pretty cool. We also liked the pulse length dial. The solution behind the LEDs is pretty clever. Video after the break.

Continue reading “Morse Code Waterfall Is Cooler Than Your Fifth Grade Science Fair Project”

Google Science Fair Finalist Explains Squid-inspired Underwater Propulsion


Meet [Alex Spiride]. He’s one of the fifteen finalists of the 2013 Google Science Fair. A native of Plano, Texas, [Alex] entered his squid-inspired underwater propulsion system in the 13-14 year old category.

The red cylinder shown in the image inlay is his test rig. It is covered well on his project site linked above. You just need to click around the different pages using the navigation tiles in the upper right to get the whole picture. The propulsion module uses water sprayed out the nozzle to push the enclosure forward. The hull is made of PVC, with a bladder inside which is connected to the nozzle. The bladder is full of water, but the cavity between it and the hull is full of air. Notice the plastic hose which is used to inject pressurized air, squeezing the bladder to propel the water out the nozzle. Pretty neat huh?

We think [Alex’s] work stands on its own. But we can’t help thinking what the next iteration could look like. We wonder what would happen if you wrapped that bladder in muscle wire? Would it be strong enough to squeeze the bladder?

You can see all fifteen finalists at the GSF announcement page. Just don’t be surprised if you see some of those other projects on our front page in the coming days.

Continue reading “Google Science Fair Finalist Explains Squid-inspired Underwater Propulsion”