When it comes to high-speed, high-voltage switching, there are a wealth of components to choose from — MOSFETS, thyristors, IGBTs, and even vacuum tubes like thyratrons. But who needs all that expensive silicon (or glass) when all you need to build a high-voltage switch is some plumbing fixtures and a lathe?
At least that’s the approach that budget-minded laser experimenter [Les Wright] took with his latest triggered spark gap build. We’ve been watching his work for a while now, especially his transversely excited atmospheric (TEA) lasers. These are conceptually simple lasers that seem easy to build, at least compared to other lasers. But they do require a rapid pulse of high voltage across their long parallel electrodes to lase, and controlling the pulse is where this triggered spark gap shines.
The spark gap is made from brass plumbing fittings on either end of a short PVC coupler. [Les] used his lathe to put a thread into one of the caps to accept a spark plug, the center electrode of which pokes through a small hole in the metal cathode. To trigger the spark gap, [Les] built a trigger generator that outputs about 15,000 volts, which arcs from the spark plug electrode to the spark gap cathode in the low-pressure nitrogen environment. Little spark leads to big spark, big spark discharges a capacitor across the laser electrodes, and you’ve got a controlled single-shot laser. Check it out in the video below.
Honestly, the more we see of [Les]’ videos, the more we want to play with lasers and high voltage. From DIY doorknob caps to blasting Bayer arrays off cheap CCD cameras, there’s always something fun — and slightly dangerous — going on in [Les]’s lab.
Continue reading “Spark Plug And Plumbing Parts Bring Nitrogen Laser Under Control”
Sometimes the decision to tackle a project or not can boil down to sourcing parts. Not everything is as close as a Digi-Key or Mouser order, and relying on the availability of surplus parts from eBay or other such markets can be difficult. Knowing if and when a substitute will work for an exotic part can sometimes be a project all on its own.
Building lasers is a great example of this, and [Les Wright] recently looked at substitutes for hard-to-find “doorknob” capacitors for his transversely excited atmospheric lasers. We took at his homebrew TEA lasers recently, which rely on a high voltage supply and very rapid switching to get nitrogen gas to lase. His design uses surplus doorknob caps, big chunky parts rated for very high voltages but also with very low parasitic inductance, which makes them perfect for the triggering circuit.
[Les] tried to substitute cheaper and easier-to-find ceramic power caps with radial wire leads rather than threaded lugs. With a nominal 40-kV rating, one would expect these chunky blue caps to tolerate the 17-kV power supply, but as he suspected, the distance between the leads was short enough to result in flashover arcing. Turning down the pressure in the spark gap chamber helped reduce the flashover and prove that these caps won’t spoil the carefully engineered inductive properties of the trigger. Check out the video below for more details.
Thanks to [Les] for following up on this and making sure everyone can replicate his designs. That’s one of the things we love about this community — true hackers always try to find a way around problems, even when it’s just finding alternates for unobtanium parts.
Continue reading “No Doorknobs Needed For This Nitrogen Laser Build”
If lasers are your hobby, you face a conundrum. There are so many off-the-shelf lasers that use so many different ways of amplifying and stimulating light that the whole thing can be downright — unstimulating. Keeping things fresh therefore requires rolling your own lasers, and these DIY nitrogen TEA and dye lasers seem like a fun way to go.
These devices are the work of [Les Wright], who takes us on a somewhat lengthy but really informative tour of transversely excited atmospheric (TEA) lasers. The idea with TEA lasers is that a gas, often carbon dioxide in commercial lasers but either air or pure nitrogen in this case, is excited by a high-voltage discharge across long parallel electrodes. TEA lasers are dead easy to make — we’ve covered them a few times — but as [Les] points out, that ease of construction leads to designs that are more ad hoc than engineered.
In the video below, [Les] presents three designs that are far more robust than the typical TEA laser. His lasers use capacitors made from aluminum foil with polyethylene sheets for dielectric, sometimes with the addition of beautiful “doorknob” ceramic caps too. A spark gap serves as a very fast switch to discharge high voltage across the laser channel, formed by two closely spaced aluminum hex bars. Both the spark gap and the laser channel can be filled with low-pressure nitrogen. [Les] demonstrates the power and the speed of his lasers, which can even excite laser emissions in a plain cuvette of rhodamine dye — no mirrors needed! Although eye protection is, of course.
These TEA lasers honestly look like a ton of fun to build and play with. You might not be laser welding or levitating stuff with them, but that’s hardly the point.
Continue reading “How About A Nice Cuppa TEA Laser?”