An Oscilloscope For The Nuclear Age

Here at Hackaday, we’re suckers for vintage instruments. More than one of our staffers has a bench adorned with devices spanning many decades, and there’s nothing more we like reading about that excursions into the more interesting or unusual examples. So when a Tweet comes our way talking about a very special oscilloscope, of course we have to take a look! The Tektronix 519 from 1962 has a 1GHz bandwidth, and [Timothy Koeth] has two of them in his collection. His description may be a year or two old, but this is the kind of device for which the up-to-the-minute doesn’t matter.

A modern 1GHz oscilloscope is hardly cheap, but is substantially a higher-speed version of the run-of-the-mill ‘scope you probably have on your bench. Its 1962 equivalent comes from a time when GHz broadband amplifiers for an oscilloscope input were the stuff of science fiction. The 519 takes the novel approach of eschewing amplification or signal conditioning and taking the input directly to the CRT deflection plates. It thus has a highly unusual 125Ω input impedance, and its feed passes through a coiled coaxial delay line to give the trigger circuits time to do their job before going into the CRT and then emerging from it for termination. It thus has a fixed deflection in volts per centimeter rather than millivolts, and each instrument has the calibration of its CRT embossed upon its bezel.

The 519 would not have been a cheap instrument in 1962, and it is no accident that there are reports of many of them coming back to Tek for service with radioactive contamination from their use in Government projects. We can’t help wondering whether the Russian equivalent super-high-speed ‘scope used the same approach, though we suspect we’ll never know.

If vintage Tek is your thing, have a look at their PCB manufacture from the 1960s.

Thanks [Luke Weston] for the tip.

Decimal Oscilloclock harks back to 1927 movie

Metropolis is a classic, silent film produced in 1927 and was one of the very first full length feature films of the science fiction genre, and very influential. (C-3PO was inspired by Maria, the “Machine human” in Metropolis.) Within the first couple of minutes in the film, we get to see two clocks — one with a 24-hour dial and another larger one with a 10-hour dial. The human overlords of Metropolis lived a utopian 24 hour day, while the worker scum who were forced to live and work underground, were subjected to work in two ten-hour shifts during the same period.

[Aaron]’s client was setting up a Metropolis themed man-cave and commissioned him to build a Metropolis Oscilloclock which would not only show the 24 hour and 10 hour clocks from the film, but also accurately reproduce the clock movements and its fonts. [Aaron]’s Oscilloclock is his latest project in the series of bespoke CRT clocks which he has been building since he was a teen.

The clock is built around a Toshiba ST-1248D vintage oscilloscope that has been beautifully restored. There are some modern additions – such as LED glow indicators for the various valves and an external X-Y input to allow rendering Lissajous figures on the CRT. He’s also added some animations derived from the original poster of the film. Doing a project of this magnitude is not trivial and its taken him almost eight months to bring it from concept to reality. We recommend looking through some of his other blog posts too, where he describes how oscilloclocks work, how he builds the HV power supplies needed to drive the CRT’s, and how he ensures vibration and noise damping for the cooling fans used for the HV power supplies. It’s this attention to detail which results in such well-built clocks. Check out some of [Aaron]’s other awesome Oscilloclock builds that we have featured over the years.

The film itself has undergone several restoration attempts, with most of it being recovered from prints which were discovered in old archives. If you wish to go down that rabbit hole, check out Wikipedia for more details and then head over to YouTube where several versions appear to be hosted.

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