Simple, Low-Cost Rig Lets the Budding Biohacker Run DNA Gels

We all the know the basic components for building out an electronics lab: breadboards, bench power supply, a selection of components, a multimeter, and maybe an oscilloscope. But what exactly do you need when you’re setting up a biohacking lab?

That’s the question that [Justin] from The Thought Emporium is trying to answer with a series of videos where he does exactly that – build a molecular biology lab from scratch. In the current installment, [Justin] covers the basics of agarose gel electrophoresis, arguably the fundamental skill for aspiring bio-geeks. Electrophoresis is simply using an electric field to separate a population of macromolecules, like nucleic acids and proteins, based on their sizes. [Justin] covers the basics, from building a rig for running agarose gels to pouring the gels to doing the actual separation and documenting the results. Commercial grade gear for the job is priced to squeeze the most money out of a grant as possible, but his stuff is built on the cheap, from dollar-store drawer organizers and other odd bits. It all works, and it saves a ton of money that can be put into the things that make more sense to buy, like fluorescent DNA stain for visualizing the bands; we’re heartened to see that the potent carcinogen ethidium bromide that we used back in the day is no longer used for this.

We’re really intrigued with [Justin]’s bio lab buildout, and it inspires us to do the same here. This and other videos in the series, like his small incubators built on the cheap, will go a long way to helping others get into biohacking.

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Persistence of Phosphorescence Clock Displays YouTube Stats Too

Looking for an eye-catching and unique way to display the time and date? Want the flexibility to add other critical information, like the number of YouTube subs you’ve got? Care to be able to read it from half a block away, at least at night? Then this scrolling glow-in-the-dark dot-matrix display could be right up your alley.

Building on his previous Morse code transcriber using a similar display, [Jan Derogee] took the concept and went big. The idea is to cover a PVC pipe with phosphorescent tape and rotate it past a row of 100 UV LEDs. The LEDs are turned on as the glow-in-the-dark surface passes over them, charging up a row of spots. The display is built up to two rows of 16 characters by the time it rotates into view, and the effect seems to last for quite a while. An ESP8266 takes care of driving the display and fetching NTP time and YouTube stats.

We’ve seen “persistence of phosphorescence” clocks before, but not as good looking and legible as this one. We like the approach, and we can’t help but think of other uses for glow-in-the-dark displays.

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3D Printering: Print Smoothing Tests with UV Resin

Smoothing the layer lines out of filament-based 3D prints is a common desire, and there are various methods for doing it. Besides good old sanding, another method is to apply a liquid coating of some kind that fills in irregularities and creates a smooth surface. There’s even a product specifically for this purpose: XTC-3D by Smooth-on. However, I happened to have access to the syrup-thick UV resin from an SLA printer and it occurred to me to see whether I could smooth a 3D print by brushing the resin on, then curing it. I didn’t see any reason it shouldn’t work, and it might even bring its own advantages. Filament printers and resin-based printers don’t normally have anything to do with one another, but since I had access to both I decided to cross the streams a little.

The UV-curable resin I tested is Clear Standard resin from a Formlabs printer. Other UV resins should work similarly from what I understand, but I haven’t tested them.

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Not Your Typical POV Clock

Persistence of vision displays are fun, and a natural for clocks, but they’re getting a little Nixie-ish, aren’t they? There are only so many ways to rotate LEDs and light them up, after all. But here’s something a little different: a POP, or “persistence of phosphorescence” clock.

[Chris Mitchell] turned the POV model around for this clock and made the LEDs stationary, built into the tower that holds the slowly rotated display disk. Printed from glow-in-the-dark PLA, the disk gets charged by the strip of UV LEDs as it spins, leaving behind a ghostly dot matrix impression of the time. The disk rotates on a stepper, and the clock runs on a Nano with an RTC. The characters almost completely fade out by the time they get back to the “write head” again, making an interesting visual effect. Check it out in the video after the break.

Our only quibble is the choice to print the disk rather than cut it from sheet stock. Seems like there has to be commercially available phosphorescent plastic, or even the glow-in-the-dark paper used for this faux LED scrolling sign. But if you’ve got glowy PLA, why not use it?

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Improvising An EPROM Eraser

Back in the old days, when we were still twiddling bits with magnetized needles, changing the data on an EPROM wasn’t as simple as shoving it in a programmer. These memory chips were erased with UV light shining through a quartz window onto a silicon die. At the time, there were neat little blacklights in a box sold to erase these chips. There’s little need for these chip erasers now, so how do you erase and program a chip these days? Build your own chip eraser using components that would have blown minds back in the 70s.

[Charles] got his hands on an old 2764 EPROM for a project, but this chip had a problem — there was still data on it. Fortunately, old electronics are highly resistant to abuse, so he pulled out the obvious equipment to erase this chip, a 300 watt tanning lamp. This almost burnt down the house, and after a second round of erasing of six hours under the lamp, there were still unerased bits.

Our ability to generate UV light has improved dramatically over the last fifty years, and [Charles] remembered he had an assortment of LEDs, including a few tiny 5mW UV LEDs. Can five milliwatts do what three hundred watts couldn’t? Yes; the LED had the right frequency to flip a bit, and erasing an EPROM is a function of intensity and time. All you really need to do is shine a LED onto a chip for a few hours.

With this vintage chip erased, [Charles] slapped together an EPROM programmer — with a programming voltage of 21V — out of an ATMega and a bench power supply. It eventually worked, allowing [Charles]’ project, a vintage liquid crystal display, to have the right data using vintage-correct parts.

Lamp Analysis Tells Sad Truth Behind The Marketing Hype

Here in the northern hemisphere, winter has wrapped us in her monochromatic prison. A solid deck of gray clouds means you need a clock to tell the difference between night and day, and by about the first week of February, it gets to feeling like you’ll never see a blue sky again. It’s depressing, to be honest, and the lack of sunlight can even lead to a mood disorder known as SAD, or seasonal affective disorder.

SAD therapy is deceptively simple — bright full-spectrum light, and lots of it, to simulate the sun and stimulate the lizard brain within us. Not surprisingly, such lights are available commercially, but when [Justin Lam] bought one to help with his Vancouver blues, he decided to analyze the lamp’s output to determine whether the $70 he spent paid for therapy or marketing.

The initial teardown was not encouraging, with what appeared to be a standard CFL “curly fry” light with a proprietary base in a fancy plastic enclosure. With access to a spectrometer, [Justin] confirmed that not only does the SAD light have exactly the same spectrum as a regular CFL, the diffuser touted to provide “full UV protection” does so simply by attenuating the entire spectrum evenly so that the UV exposure falls below the standards. In short, he found that the lamp was $70 worth of marketing wrapped around a $1.50 CFL. Caveat emptor.

Hats off to [Justin] for revealing the truth behind the hype, and here’s hoping he finds a way to ameliorate his current SAD situation. Perhaps one of these DIY lamps will be effective without the gouging.

Old Scanner Finds New Life In DIY PCB Fab

Cheap, high-quality PCBs are truly a wonder of our age. That a professionally fabricated board with silkscreen and solder mask can be ordered online and delivered to your door has lowered the bar between a hobbyist project and a polished product. But the wait can be agonizing, and it can throw a wrench into the iterative design process. What to do?

[Andras Kabai] knows the answer to that, and this former flatbed scanner turned into a UV exposer is the centerpiece of his DIY board fab. The old Mustek scanner was a couple of bucks secondhand, and provided not only the perfect form-factor for a board scanner but a trove of valuable parts to reuse. [Andras] replaced the original fluorescent light bar with a long, narrow PCB stuffed with UV LEDs, and added an Arduino Mega to control the original stepper drive. The project looks like it went through a little feature creep, with an elaborate menu system and profiles that include controls for exposure time, the brightness of the LED array via PWM, and the length of board that gets exposed. It’s clearly a work in progress, but early results are encouraging and we’ll be watching to see how [Andras]’ in-house fab shapes up.

This approach to PCB fab is only one of many, of course. You can turn a budget 3D-printer into a PCB machine, or even use an LCD to mask the boards during exposure. The latter intrigues us — an LCD mask and a scanning UV light source could make for a powerful PCB creation tool.