Probably The Simplest Radiation Detector You Already Own

Over the years we’ve featured quite a few radiatioactivity detectors, which usually include a Geiger-Muller tube, or perhaps a large-area photodiode. But in the event of radiation exposure from a nuclear attack, how does the man in the street gauge the exposure without owning a dedicated instrument? This was a question of note at the height of the Cold War, and it’s one that [Dr. Marshall Brucer] answered in a 1962 paper entitled “When Do You Leave A Fallout Shelter“. The full paper is behind a paywall but the part we’re interested in is on the freely available first page.

Dr. Brucer‘s detector is simplicity itself, and it relies on the erosion of a static electric charge by radiation. Should you rub a plastic comb in your hair it will accumulate enough charge to pick up a small piece of paper, and under normal background radiation the charge will ebb away such that it will drop the piece of paper after about 15 seconds. His calculation is that once the field reaches around 10 roentgens per hour it will be enough to erase the charge and drop the paper immediately. There’s a comtemporary newspaper report (Page 7, just to the left of the large advertisment) which tells the reader that since the exposure limit is 100 roentgens (one sievert), this test failing indicates that they have nine hours to create a better shelter. For obvious reasons we can’t test this at the Hackaday bench, but those of us who remember the days when such topics were a real concern will be searching for a handy comb anyway.

Thanks [Victor Matthew] for the tip.

ElectriPop Turns Cut Mylar Into Custom 3D Structures

Mylar has a lot of useful properties, and as such as see it pop up pretty often, not just in DIY projects but in our day-to-day lives. But until today, we’ve never seen a piece of Mylar jump up and try to get our attention. But that’s precisely the promise offered by ElectriPop, a fascinating project from Carnegie Mellon University’s Future Interfaces Group.

The core principle at work here is fairly simple. When electrostatically charged, a strip of Mylar can be made to lift up vertically into the air. Cut that strip down the center, and the two sides will repel each other and produce a “Y” shape. By expanding on that concept with enough carefully placed cuts, it’s possible to create surprisingly complex three dimensional shapes that pop up once a charge is applied. A certain degree of motion can even be introduced by adjusting the input power. The video after the break offers several examples of this principle in action: such as a 3D flower that either stands up tall or wilts in relation to an external source of data, or an avatar that flails its arms wildly to get the user’s attention.

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Supersized Van De Graaff Generator Packs A Punch

The Van de Graaff generator is a staple of science museums, to the point that even if the average person might not know its name, there’s an excellent chance they’ll be familiar with the “metal ball that makes your hair stand up” description. That’s partly because they’re a fairly safe way to show off high voltages, but also because they’re surprisingly cheap and easy to build.

In his latest Plasma Channel video [Jay Bowles] builds a large Van de Graaff generator that wouldn’t look out of place in a museum or university, which he estimates is producing up to 500,000 volts. It can easily throw impressive looking (and sounding) sparks 10 inches or more, and as you can see in the video below, is more than capable of pulling off those classic science museum tricks.

Lower pulley assembly.

It’s really quite amazing to see just how little it takes to generate these kinds of voltages with a Van de Graaff. In fact there’s nothing inside that you’d immediately equate with high voltage, the only electronic component in the generator’s base beyond the battery pack is a motor speed controller. While everything else might look suspiciously like magic, our own [Steven Dufresne] wrote up a properly scientific explanation of how it all works.

In this particular case, the motor spins a nylon pulley in the base of the generator, which is connected to a Teflon pulley in the top by way of a neoprene rubber belt. Combs made from fine metal mesh placed close to the belt at the top and bottom allow the Van de Graaff to build up a static charge in the sphere. Incidentally, it sounds like sourcing the large metal sphere was the most difficult part of this whole build, as it took [Jay] several hours to modify the garden gazing ball to fit atop the acrylic tube that serves as the machine’s core.

In the past we’ve seen Van de Graaff generators built out of literal trash, and back in 2018, [Jay] himself put together a much smaller and more simplistic take on the concept. But this beauty certainly raises the bar beyond anything we’ve seen previously.

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One Anti-Static Ring To Delight Them All

What’s the worst thing about winter? If you’re as indoorsy as we are, then static electricity is probably pretty high on the list. It can ruin your chips, true, but you always wear a wrist ground strap when you handle those, right? But away from the bench, every doorknob and light switch is lying in wait, ready to shock you. If you had an anti-static ring like [LaPuge], you could be watching a tiny neon bulb light up instead of the air between your poor finger and the discharge point.

The ring itself is printed in TPU 95A filament for comfort and flexibility. There isn’t a whole lot to the circuit, just a neon bulb, a 1MΩ resistor, and some copper tape, but this piece of functional jewelry has the potential to spark up plenty of charged conversations. Zap your way past the break to see it light up against a door handle.

If you want to light up neon bulbs all year long, build a field of them and wave them near your Tesla coil!

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Mini Van De Graaff Is A Shocking Desk Toy

The Van De Graff generator is a device capable of generating potentially millions of volts of electricity which you can build in an afternoon, probably from parts you’ve got in the junk bin. This is not a fact that’s escaped the notice of hackers for decades, and accordingly we’ve seen several Van De Graaff builds over the years. So has high voltage hacker [Jay Bowles], but he still thought he could bring something new to the table.

The focus of his latest build was to not only produce one of the most polished and professional versions of this venerable piece of high voltage equipment, but also make it accessible for others by keeping the design simple and affordable. The final result is a 40,000 volt Van De Graaff generator that’s powered by two AA batteries and can fit in the palm of your hand.

Put simply, a Van De Graaff generator creates static electricity from the friction of two metal combs rubbing against a moving belt, which is known as the triboelectric effect. The belt is stretched between the two combs and passes through an insulated tube, which serves to “pump” electrons from one side to the other. The end result is that a massive charge builds up on the positive side of the Van De Graaff generator, which is all too willing to send a spark firing off towards whatever negatively charged object gets close enough.

The video after the break guides viewers through the process of turning this principle into a practical device, illustrating how remarkably simple it really is. A common hobby motor is used to get the belt going, in this case just a wide rubber band, and the rest of the components are easily sourced or fabricated. Even for what’s arguably the most intricate element of the build, the combs themselves, [Jay] uses nothing more exotic than aluminum foil tape and a piece of stranded wire splayed out.

Combined with the acrylic base and the purpose-made metal sphere (rather than using a soda can or other upcycled object), the final result not only generates healthy sparks but looks good doing it. Though if the final fit and finish isn’t important, you could always build one out of stuff you found in the trash.

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Hand-Cranked Cyclotron

Okay, not actually a cyclotron… but this ball cyclotron is a good model for what a cyclotron does and the concepts behind it feel kooky and magical. A pair of Ping Pong balls scream around a glass bowl thanks the repulsive forces of static electricity.

It’s no surprise that this comes from Rimstar, a source we’ve grown to equate with enthralling home lab experiments like the Ion Wind powered Star Trek Enterprise. Those following closely will know that most of [Steven Dufresne’s] experiments involve high voltage and this one is no different. The same Wimshurst Machine he used in the Tea Laser demo is brought in again for this one.

A glass bowl is used for its shape and properties as an insulator. A set of electrodes are added in the form of aluminum strips. These are given opposite charges using the Wimshurst machine. Ping Pong balls coated in conductive paint are light enough to be moved by the static fields, and a good crank gets them travelling in a very fast circuit around the bowl.

When you move a crank the thought of being connected to something with a chain pops into your mind. This feels very much the same, but there is no intuitive connection between the movement of the balls and your hand on the crank. Anyone need a prop for their Halloween party?

If you don’t want to buy or build a Wimshurst machine you can use a Van De Graaff generator. Can anyone suggest other HV sources that would work well here?

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Stun Baton

Shocking Idea: Prank Stun Baton

[Christopher] has put together a Prank Stun Baton to annoy his friends. It delivers a slight shock to the person on the business end of the device. Oddly, it’s powered solely by static electricity, there is no battery here and the resulting injury is no worse than touching a door knob after scooting your socks around on some shag carpet.

The design is super simple and is effectively just a rudimentary capacitor. The main housing is a PVC pipe that acts as a dielectric in the ‘cap’ system. Two separate pieces of tin foil are wrapped around the inside and outside of the PVC pipe. These layers of tin foil provide a conductive path up to the a couple of screws stuck in the end of the baton. A ping-pong ball and some foam act as an insulator between the PVC and the screws.

To charge the baton it only has to be brought close to a source of static electricity, a tube TV will do the trick. Rubbing it with a piece of wool will also work. When this is done an electrostatic field is stored in the PVC between the two pieces of tin foil, one side takes on a positive charge and the other a negative charge creating an electric potential between the two screws at the end of the baton. When something (with a low-enough resistance) shorts the screws, the stored energy on the positive screw tries to go to the negative screw, shocking the unsuspecting victim.

Need something a little more powerful? You may want to check out this other stun baton.