A makerspace is a great place to use specialty tools that may be too expensive or large to own by oneself, but there are other perks that come with participation in that particular community. For example, all of the skills you’ve gained by using all that fancy equipment may make you employable in some very niche situations. [lukeiamyourfather] from the Dallas Makerspace recently found himself in just that situation, and was asked to image a two-million-year-old fossil.
The fossil was being placed into a CT machine for imaging, but was too thick to properly view. These things tend to be fragile, so he spent some time laser cutting an acrylic stand in order to image the fossil vertically instead of horizontally. Everything that wasn’t fossil had to be non-conductive for the CT machine, so lots of fishing line and foam was used as well. After the imaging was done, he was also asked to 3D print a model for a display in the museum.
This is all going on at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science if you happen to be in the Dallas area. It’s interesting to see these skills put to use out in the wild as well, especially for something as rare and fragile as studying an old fossil. Also, if you’d like to see if your local makerspace measures up to the Dallas makerspace, we featured a tour of it back in 2014, although they have probably made some updates since then.
The simple plasma ball – it graces science museums and classrooms all around the world. It shares a place with the Van de Graaf generator, with the convenient addition of spectacular plasma rays that grace its spherical surface. High voltage, aesthetically pleasing, mad science tropes – what would make a better DIY project?
For some background, plasma is the fourth state of matter, often created by heating a neutral gas or ionizing the gas in a strong electromagnetic field. The availability of free electrons allows plasma to conduct electricity and exhibit different properties from ordinary gases. It is also influenced by magnetic fields in this state and can often be found in electric arcs.
[Discrete Electronics Guy] built a plasma bulb using the casing from an old filament bulb and an ignition coil connected to a high voltage power supply. The power supply is based on the 555 timer IC. It uses a step-up transformer (the ignition coil) driven by a square wave oscillator circuit at a high frequency working as AC voltage. The square wave signal boosts the current into the power transistor, increasing its power.
The plasma is produced inside the bulb, which contains inactive noble gases. When touching the surface of the bulb, the electric arc flows to the point of contact. The glass medium protects the skin from burning, but the transparency allows the plasma to be seen. Pretty cool!
In my youth I worked for a paid ambulance service, and while we all lived for the emergency calls, the routine transports were the calls that paid the bills. Compared with the glamor and excitement of a lights-and-siren run to a car wreck or heart attack, transports were dull as dirt. And dullest of all were the daily runs from nursing homes to the dialysis center, where rows of comfy chairs sat, each before a refrigerator-sized machine designed to filter the blood of a patient in renal failure, giving them another few days of life.
Sadly, most of those patients were doomed; many were in need of a kidney transplant for which there was no suitable donor, while some were simply not candidates for transplantation. Dialysis was literally all that stood between them and a slow, painful death, and I could see that at least some of them were cheered by the sight of the waiting dialysis machine. The principles of how the kidneys work have been known since at least the 1800s, but it would take until 1945 for the efforts of a Dutch doctor, using used car parts and sausage casings, to make the predecessor of those machines: the first artificial kidney.
Space is very much the final frontier for humanity, at least as far as our current understanding of the universe takes us. Only a handful of countries and corporations on Earth have the hardware to readily get there, and even fewer are capable of reaching orbit. For these reasons, working in this field can seem out of reach for many. Nevertheless, there’s plenty about the great expanse beyond our atmosphere that can be studied by the dedicated citizen scientist. With the right equipment and know-how, it’s even possible to capture and study micrometeorites yourself!
For those new to the field, the terms used can be confusing. Meteoroids are small metallic or rocky objects found in outer space, up to around 1 meter in size. When these burn up upon entering the atmosphere, they are referred to as a meteor, or colloquially known as a shooting star. If part of the object survives long enough to hit the ground, this is referred to as a meteorite, and as you’d expect the smaller ones are called micrometeorites, being on the scale of 2mm or less.
Stardust Proves Hard To Find
Being tiny and having fallen from space, micrometeorites present certain challenges to those who wish to find and identify them. In spite of this, they can be found by using the right techniques and a heck of a lot of hard work.
Cloud chambers are an exciting and highly visual science experiment. They’re fascinating to watch as you can see the passage of subatomic particles from radioactive decay with your very own eyes. Many elect to build small chambers based on thermoelectric Peltier elements, but [Cloudylabs] decided to do something on a grander scale.
[Cloudylabs] started building cloud chambers after first seeing one in a museum back in 2010. The first prototype was an air-cooled Peltier device, with a cooled area of just 4x4cm. Over the years, and after building many more Peltier-based chambers, it became apparent that the thermoelectric modules were somewhat less than robust, often failing after many thermal cycles. Wanting to take things up a notch, [Cloudylabs] elected to build a much larger unit based on phase-change technology, akin to the way a refrigerator works.
The final product is astounding, consisting of a 32x18cm actively cooled area mounted within a large glass viewing case. A magnet is mounted underneath which causes certain particles to curve in relation to the field, as well as an electrically charged grid up top. The chamber is capable of operating for up to 12 hours without requiring any user intervention.
The way geckos stick to surfaces is through the use of nano-scale hairs on their feet. These hairs dramatically increase the surface area of contact between the gecko and the surface in question. This allows the usually-small intermolecular forces to stack up and keep the gecko adhered.
Several teams have managed to create synthetic substances that recreate this ability; indeed we’ve featured some here before. In this case, experimentation started with an attempt to generate the requisite nanostructures by casting RTV silicone on a microporous filter. This was unsuccessful, with the hairs on the surface of the material created being too sparse and at random angles. The next stage involved attempting to use a tattoo gun, needles, and finally sharpened tungsten wires to pattern wax, which could then have silicone cast onto it to pick up the geometry. This too was unsuccessful, as it wasn’t possible to generate tiny enough features to generate the effect.
The final experiment involved casting silicone upon a 1000 line per millimeter diffraction grating. This generated tiny ridges on the surface of the silicone, and greatly improved its sticking ability. While the ridges generated aren’t as capable as gecko feet or professionally-produced films, they do have an impressive weight holding ability. A small section of the silicone was able to hold over 20 pounds for an extended period in testing.
It’s a great example of how to do seemingly complicated science with materials that can be easily acquired for the home workshop. We’d love to see just how strong a gecko tape could be produced with more work done on this method. Video after the break.
Knowing in what absolute direction your robot is pointed can be crucial, and expensive systems like those used by NASA on Mars are capable of calculating this six-dimensional heading vector to within around one degree RMS, but they are fairly expensive. If you want similar accuracy on a hacker budget, this paper shows you how to do it using cheap MEMS sensors, an off-the-shelf motion co-processor IC, and the right calibration method.
The latest article to be published in our own peer-reviewed Hackaday Journal is Limits of Absolute Heading Accuracy Using Inexpensive MEMS Sensors (PDF). In this paper, Gregory Tomasch and Kris Winer take a close look at the heading accuracy that can be obtained using several algorithms coupled with two different MEMS sensor sets. Their work shows that when properly used, inexpensive sensors can produce results on par with much more costly systems. This is a great paper that illustrates the practical contributions our community can make to technology, and we’re proud to publish it in the Journal.