Single Photon Detection With Photomultipliers

Unless you are an audiophile, you likely think of tubes as mostly relegated to people who work on old technology. However, photomultiplier tubes are still useful compared to more modern sensors, and [Jaynes Network] has a look into how they work, especially with scintillating detectors.

The RCA photomultiplier he examines has ten stages and can detect even a single photon. Combined with a scintillating detector, they make good radiation detectors.

We can’t help but smile when we hear someone obviously in love with the engineering behind a tube like this. We get it. The inside of the tube is crowded, so it is hard to identify the dynodes and other portions, but some diagrams make it readily apparent how the tube does its job.

We were impressed with how good the documentation that came with the tube looked, considering its age. We mean the condition it was in. The document itself was obviously a reproduction of a typewritten document with hand-drawn figures and graphs.

We were hoping for some footage of the tube in action, but we’ll have to wait for a future video. We are betting that is coming, though. Although there are some solid-state detectors, they are not suitable for all applications. There was a time, though, when the tubes were in many applications, including X-ray scanners and photography equipment.

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Everything You Wanted To See About Restoring A 1956 Radio

Ever wanted a good, good look at the insides of a 1950s radio, along with fantastic commentary on the internals and the purpose of various components? Then don’t miss [Adam Wilson]’s repair and restoration of a 1956 Philips 353A, a task made easier by a digitized copy of the service manual. [Adam] provides loads of great pictures, as well as tips on what it takes to bring vintage electronics back to life. What’s not to like?

Vintage electronics like this are often chock-full of components that deteriorate with age, so one doesn’t simply apply power to see if it still works as a first step. These devices need to be inspected and serviced before power is ever applied. Even then, powerup should be done with a current-controlled source that can be shut down if anything seems amiss.

Thank goodness for high quality, digitized service manuals.

Devices like these largely predate printed circuit boards, so one can expect to see plenty of point-to-point soldering. Vacuum tubes did much of the hard work, so they are present instead of integrated circuits and transistors. Capacitors in the microfarads were much larger compared to their modern equivalents, and paper/wax capacitors (literally made from rolled-up paper covered in wax) handled capacitances in the nanofarad range instead of the little ceramic disk caps of today.

One thing that helped immensely is the previously-mentioned Philips 353A service manual, which includes not only a chassis and component layout, but even has servicing procedures such as cord replacement for the tuning dial. Back then, a tuning dial was an electromechanical assembly that used a winding of cord to rotate the tuning capacitor, and replacing it was a fiddly process. If only all hardware was documented so well!

The end result looks wonderful and still has great sound. As a final tweak, [Adam] added an external audio input cable as a nod to the modern age. Now, we have in the past seen a small LED screen integrated convincingly into an antique, but in this case [Adam] kept the original look completely intact. You can see it in action, playing some Frank Sinatra in the short video embedded below.
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Vintage Tube Tester Teardown

[Mr. Carlson] has an old-style 1940-era radio tube tester, the kind that used to inhabit grocery and drug stores. It is in amazing condition and he was kind enough to tear it down for us. The tester is a Model X from the Radiotechnic Laboratory in Evanston Illinois and, like [Mr. Carlson], we were amused that one of the indicators on the device is a Ouija board-like “doubtful” reading. When it lights up, it looks amazing.

This is much older than the old “TV tube testers” we remember as a kid, but the idea is the same: you have a bad radio or TV with tubes in it, it is a fair bet that the problem is a tube. Even if you don’t know much about electronics, you can carefully remove the tubes, drive over to the drugstore, test your tubes and buy a replacement for any that are bad. Uniquely, this tester even had a speaker you could use to listen to the tube’s output while testing.

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Reactive Load For Amplifiers Teaches Lessons About Inductors

The sound produced by any given electric guitar is shaped not just by the instrument itself but by the amplifiers chosen to make that sound audible. Plenty of musicians swear by the warm sound of amplifiers with vacuum tube circuits, but they do have some limitations. [Collin] wanted to build a reactive load for using tube amps without generating a huge quantity of sound, and it resulted in an interesting project that also taught him a lot about inductors.

The reactive load is essentially a dummy load for the amplifier that replaces a speaker with something that won’t produce sound. Passive loads typically use resistor banks but since this one is active, it needs a very large inductor to handle the amount of current being produced by the amplifier. [Colin] has also built a headphone output into this load which allows it to output a much smaller quantity of sound to a headset while retaining the sound and feel of the amplifier tubes, and it additionally includes a widely-used tone control circuit as well.

There’s a lot going on in the design of the circuitry for this amplifier load, including a lot of research into low-frequency inductors that can handle a significant amount of current. [Collin] eventually ended up winding his own, but the path he took to it was long and winding. There’s a lot of other circuit theory discussed as well especially with regards to the Baxandall EQ that he built into it as well. And, if you’d like to learn more about tube amplifiers in general, take a look at this piece which notes one of the best stereo amps ever produced.

Hackaday Prize 2022: Glass Tube Solar Thermionic Converters

Typically, if you want to convert solar energy into electrical energy, you use either photovoltaic (PV) cells, or you use the sunlight to create steam to turn a turbine. Both of these methods are well-established and used regularly in both small- and grid-scale applications. However, [Nick Poole] wanted to investigate an alternative method, using thermionic converters for solar power generation.

[Nick] has been gearing up to produce various styles of vacuum tubes, and noted that the thermionic effect that makes them work could also be used to generate electricity. They are highly inefficient and produce far less power than a photovoltaic solar cell, meaning they’re not in common use. However, as [Nick] notes, unlike PV cells etched in silicon, a thermionic converter can be built with basic glassworking tools, requiring little more than a torch, a vacuum pump, and a spot welder.

Experiments with a large lens to focus sunlight onto a 6V3A diode tube showed promise. [Nick] was able to generate half a volt, albeit at a tiny current, with the design not being optimized for thermionic conversion. Further experiments involved electrically heating a pair of diode tubes, which was able to just barely light an LED at 1.7 V and a current of 7.5 uA. The conversion efficiency was a lowly 0.00012%, around 5 orders of magnitude worse than a typical PV cell.

[Nick]’s hope is that he can produce a tube designed specifically to maximize thermionic conversion for energy generation purposes. It’s likely there is some low-hanging fruit in terms of gains to be made simply by optimizing the design for this purpose, even if the technique can’t compete with other solar generation methods.

In any case, we’re eager to see what [Nick] comes up with! We love to see makers building tubes in their own home workshops.

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This Ham Radio Is Unsafe At Any Frequency

When we were kids we rode bicycles without pads and helmets. We drank sugary drinks. We played with chemistry sets and power tools. We also built things that directly used AC line current. [Mike] remembers and built one, presumably more to discuss the safety precautions around things that can shock you and not entice you to duplicate it. He calls it The Retro QRP Widowmaker, if that’s any kind of a hint. (Video of this unsafe transmitter also embedded below.)

The design showed up from time to time in old electronic magazines. Built on an open board and with no ground wire, the radio didn’t need a complex power supply. This wasn’t limited to transmitters, either. Some TVs and radios had a “hot chassis.” That’s why we were taught to touch an unknown chassis with the back of your hand first. A shock will contract your muscles and that will pull your arm away instead of making you grab the electrically active part.

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Modern Tube Tester Uses Arduino

There was a time when people like us might own a tube tester and even if you didn’t, you probably knew which drug store had a tube testing machine you could use for free. We aren’t sure that’s a testament to capitalistic ingenuity or an inditement of tube reliability — maybe both. As [Usagi] has been working on some tube-based projects, he decided he needed a tester so he built one. You can see the results in the video, below.

The tester only uses 24V, but for the projects he’s building, that’s close to the operation in the real circuits. He does have a traditional tube tester, but it uses 100s of volts which is a different operating regime.

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