Supercon 2018: Mike Szczys and the State of the Hackaday

Every year at Superconference, Editor-in-Chief Mike Szczys gets the chance to talk about what we think are the biggest, most important themes in the Hackaday universe. This year’s talk was about science and technology, and more importantly who gets to be involved in building the future. Spoiler: all of us! Hackaday has always stood for the ideal that you, yes you, should be taking stuff apart, improving it, and finding innovative ways to use, make, and improve. To steal one of Mike’s lines: “Hackaday is an engine of engagement in engineering fields.”

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The Future Circular Collider: Can it Unlock Mysteries of the Universe?

In the early 1990s, I was lucky enough to get some time on a 60 MeV linear accelerator as part of an undergraduate lab course. Having had this experience, I can feel for the scientists at CERN who have had to make do with their current 13 TeV accelerator, which only manages energies some 200,000 times larger. So, I read with great interest when they announced the publication of the initial design concept for the Future Circular Collider (FCC), which promises collisions nearly an order of magnitude more energetic. The plan, which has been in the  works since 2014, includes three proposals for accelerators which would succeed CERN’s current big iron, the LHC.

Want to know what’s on the horizon in high-energy physics?

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A Lemon Battery Via 3D Printing

There are a whole bunch of high school science experiments out there that are useful for teaching students the basics of biology, physics, and chemistry. One of the classics is the lemon battery. [iqless] decided to have a play with the idea, and whipped up a little something for his students.

The basic lemon battery is remarkably simple. Lemon juice provides the electrolyte, while copper and and zinc act as electrodes. This battery won’t have a hope of charging your Tesla, but you might get enough juice to light an LED or small bulb (pun intended).

[iqless] considered jamming electrodes directly into lemons to be rather unsophisticated. Instead, an electrolyte tray was 3D printed. The tray can be filled with lemon juice (either hand-squeezed or straight from a bottle) and the tray has fixtures to hold copper pennies and zinc-plated machine screws to act as the electrodes. The tray allows several cells to be constructed and connected in series or parallel, giving yet further teaching opportunities.

It’s a fun twist on a classroom staple, and we think there are great possibilities here for further experimentation with alternative electrolytes and electrode materials. We’d also love to see a grown-up version with a large cascade of cells in series for lemon-based high voltage experiments, but that might be too much to ask. There’s great scope for using modern maker techniques in classroom science – we’ve discussed variations on the egg drop before. Video after the break.

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Plastics: PETG

You’d be hard-pressed to walk down nearly any aisle of a modern food store without coming across something made of plastic. From jars of peanut butter to bottles of soda, along with the trays that hold cookies firmly in place to prevent breakage or let a meal go directly from freezer to microwave, food is often in very close contact with a plastic that is specifically engineered for the job: polyethylene terephthalate, or PET.

For makers of non-food objects, PET and more importantly its derivative, PETG, also happen to have excellent properties that make them the superior choice for 3D-printing filament for some applications. Here’s a look at the chemistry of polyester resins, and how just one slight change can turn a synthetic fiber into a rather useful 3D-printing filament.

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Build A Seismometer Out Of Plumbing Parts

For those outside the rocking and rolling of California’s tectonic plate, earthquakes probably don’t come up on a daily basis as a topic of conversation. Regardless, the instrument to measure them is called a seismometer, and it’s entirely possible to build one yourself. [Bob LeDoux] has shared his article on how to build a Fluid Mass Electrolytic Seismometer, and it’s an impressive piece of work.

This is an instrument which works very differently from the typical needle-and-graph type seen in the movies. Fluid is held in a sealed chamber, with a restricted orifice in the center of a tube. The fluid level is monitored at each side of the orifice. When motion occurs, fluid levels change at either side which allows seismic activity to be measured.

Hooked up to some basic analog electronics, in this form, the device only shows instantaneous activity. However, it would be trivial for the skilled maker to hook this up to a datalogging setup to enable measurements to be plotted and stored. The entire project can be built with simple hand tools and a basic PCB, making it highly accessible.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen a seismometer, either – the Raspberry Shake project is a distributed network of sensors running on the Raspberry Pi.

Imploding Tiny 3D Prints

If you think about 3D printing, the ultimate goal would be to lay down specific atoms or molecule and build anything. Despite a few lab demonstrations at that scale, generally, it is easier to print in the macro scale than the micro. While it won’t get down to the molecule level, implosion fabrication is a new technique researchers hope will allow you to print large things and then shrink them. The paper describing the process appeared in Science. If you don’t want to pay your way through the paywall, you can read a summary on NewScientist or C&EN. Or you can scour the usual sources.

The team at MIT uses the same material that is found in disposable diapers. A laser traces patterns and the light reacts to a chemical implanted in the diaper material (sodium polyacrylate). That material can swell to many times its normal size which is why it is used in diapers. In this case, though, the material is swollen first and then reduced back to normal size.

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Better Mechanical Keyboards Through 3D Printing

You’re not cool unless you have a mechanical keyboard. No, you won’t be able to tell if your coworkers don’t like it, because you won’t be able to hear their complaining over the sound of your clack-clack-clacking. You can even go all-in with switch modifications, o-rings, and new springs, or you could use your 3D printer to modify the touch of your wonderful Cherry MX switches. That’s what a few researchers did, and the results are promising.

The ‘problem’ this research is attempting to solve is bottoming out on Cherry MX keyswitches. If you’re bottoming out, you’re doing it wrong, but nevertheless, you can get a publication out of solving repetitive strain injury. This was done by modeling the bottom housing of a Cherry MX switch by printing most of it in nylon on a Stratasys Objet 350 polyjet printer, with a tiny bit of of the housing printed with a polymer with a hardness of Shore 40. No, Shore A, Shore B, or Shore 00 was not specified, but hey, it’s just a conference paper.

The experimental test for this keyswitch was dropping a 150 gram weight from 125 mm onto the keyswitch, with a force sensitive resistor underneath the switch, connected to an Arduino. Data was logged, filtered, and fitted in Excel to create a plot of the force on dampened, rigid, and commercial switch housings. Results from ANOVA were p > 0.05 (p=0.12).

Despite the lack of significant results, there is something here. The Objet is one of the few printers that can do multimaterial printing with the resolution needed to replicate an injection molded part. There is a trend to the data, and printing squishy parts into a keyswitch should improve typing feel. There will be more work on this, but in the meantime we’re hopeful some other experimenters will pick up this train of research.