Teardown: Bug Zapper Bulb

Up here in the Northern Hemisphere, mosquitoes and other flying pests are the last thing on anyone’s mind right now. The only bug that’s hindering gatherings at the moment goes by the name of COVID-19, but even if we weren’t social distancing, insects simply aren’t a concern at this time of year. So it’s little surprise that these months are often the best time to find a great deal on gadgets designed to deter or outright obliterate airborne insects.

Whatever PIC stands for…it’s not that.

Case in point, I was able to pick up this “Bug Zapper LED Bulb” at the big-box hardware store for just a few bucks. This one is sold by PIC Corporation, though some press release surfing shows the company merely took over distribution of the device in 2017. Before then it was known as the Zapplight, and was the sort of thing you might see advertised on TV if you were still awake at 3 AM. It appears there are several exceptionally similar products on the market as well, which are likely to be the same internally.

In all fairness, it’s a pretty clever idea. Traditional zappers are fairly large, and need to be hoisted up somewhere next to an electrical outlet. But if you could shrink one down to the size of a light bulb, you could easily dot them around the porch using the existing sockets and wiring. Extra points if you can also figure out a way to make it work as a real bulb when the bugs aren’t out. Obviously the resulting chimera won’t excel at either task, but there’s certainly something to be said for the convenience of it.

Let’s take a look inside one of these electrifying illuminators and see how they’ve managed to squeeze two very different devices into one socket-friendly package.

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15 Volts To 110,000 Volts

There’s something satisfying about creating high voltages. Sure, there are practical uses like neon signs or doing certain experiments, but be honest — you really just want to see some giant arcs lighting up your dark mad scientist lair. [Mircemk] has just the prescription for what ails you. Using a two-stage approach, he shows a simple setup that generates about 110KV from a pretty tame 15V supply.

From the 15V, there is a stage that uses a flyback transformer and a switch to generate a reasonably high voltage. The final stage is a Cockroft-Walton voltage multiplier that can produce quite a bit of voltage. You can see the impressive arcs in the video below.

The multiplier circuit found fame with experiments by Cockroft and Walton, obviously, but was actually originated in the early 1900s with a physicist named Greinacher. The circuit uses diodes as switches and charges a bank of capacitors in parallel. The discharge, however, puts the capacitors in series. Neglecting losses and loads, the output voltage is equal to the peak-to-peak input voltage times the number of stages present. Real-world considerations mean you won’t quite get that voltage out of it, but it can still provide a potent punch. Click through the break for a video of the circuit in action!

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Look Ma, No Glue! Electrostatic Adhesion As If By Magic

One of the projects at the recent Hacker Hotel hacker camp in the Netherlands appeared to have achieved the impossible. A vertical PCB surface was holding pieces of paper as though they were pinned to it as on a notice board, yet there was no adhesive or fixings in sight. Was Harry Potter among the attendees, ready with a crafty bit of magic at a waggle of a wizard’s wand, or was a clever hack at work?

Of course, it was the latter, as [Jan-Henrik Hemsing], had created an electrostatic adhesion plate because he was curious about the phenomenon. A PCB with extra insulation has an array of conductors on one side that carry a very high voltage. High enough for electrostatic attraction to secure a piece of paper to the PCB.

The voltage is generated from an AC source by a Cockroft-Walton multiplier on the back of the PCB, and the front is coated with Plasti-Dip for insulation. It seems that soldermask is not a reliable insulator at such high voltages.

Using the board, [Jan] was able to attach a piece of paper to it with a shearing force of 5mN at 3kV applied voltage, which may not sound like much but appeared to be just enough to carefully pick the contraption up by the piece of paper. The boards are designed for tessellation, so larger arrays could easily be assembled.

We’ve never had a project quite like this one, but we have brought you an electrostatic ping-pong ball accelerator.

Circuit VR: The Dickson Charge Pump

There was a time when taking a low DC voltage — say a single battery — and converting it to a higher voltage was painful. Now, however, cheap and easy-to-use DC to DC converters are readily available. For some small tasks, though, these can seem like overkill. For example, consider a case where you need to supply a higher voltage for a MOSFET gate that doesn’t draw much current. Perhaps you need that higher voltage to trigger a microcontroller’s programming mode and nothing else. The current draw is minimal, and a full-blown DC to DC converter is overkill. For cases like that, it is tempting to use some voltage multiplication scheme. There are many, but for this post, I’m going to take you inside a Dickson charge pump. This is Circuit VR because not only are we going to discuss the circuit, we’ll look at an LT Spice simulation you can try yourself.

The Dickson is interesting because it doesn’t require any AC conversion or transformers. Instead, it uses diodes or other switching elements to transfer charge between capacitors in stages. Each stage will effectively increase the voltage by the supply voltage — in theory. Reality isn’t so kind, though, as we’ll see.

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Home-Brew Ruby Laser Packs A Wallop

In the past half-century, lasers have gone from expensive physics experiments using rods of ruby to cheap cutting or engraving tools, and toys used to tease cats. Advances in physics made it all possible, but it turns out that ruby lasers are still a lot of fun to play with, if you can do it without killing yourself.

With a setup that looks like something from a mad scientist movie set, [styropyro]’s high-powered laser is a lot closer to the ray gun of science fiction than the usual lasers we see, though hardly portable. The business end of the rig is a large ruby rod nestled inside a coiled xenon flash lamp, which in turn is contained within a polished reflector. The power supply for the lamp is massive — microwave oven transformers, a huge voltage multiplier, and a bank of capacitors that he says can store 20 kilojoules. When triggered by a high-voltage pulse from a 555 oscillator and an old car ignition coil, the laser outputs a powerful pulse of light, which [styropyro] uses to dramatic effect, including destroying his own optics. We’d love to hear more about the power supply design; that Cockcroft-Walton multiplier made from PVC tubes bears some exploration.

Whatever the details, the build is pretty impressive, but we do urge a few simple safety precautions. Perhaps a look at [Ben Krasnow]’s 8-kJ ruby laser would help.

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How Does A Voltage Multiplier Work?

If you need a high voltage, a voltage multiplier is one of the easiest ways to obtain it. A voltage multiplier is a specialized type of rectifier circuit that converts an AC voltage to a higher DC voltage. Invented by Heinrich Greinacher in 1919, they were used in the design of a particle accelerator that performed the first artificial nuclear disintegration, so you know they mean business.

Theoretically the output of the multiplier is an integer times the AC peak input voltage, and while they can work with any input voltage, the principal use for voltage multipliers is when very high voltages, in the order of tens of thousands or even millions of volts, are needed. They have the advantage of being relatively easy to build, and are cheaper than an equivalent high voltage transformer of the same output rating. If you need sparks for your mad science, perhaps a voltage multiplier can provide them for you.

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Expanding Horizons With The Ion Propelled Lifter

Like many people, going through university followed an intense career building period was a dry spell in terms of making things. Of course things settled down and I finally broke that dry spell to work on what I called “non-conventional propulsion”.

I wanted to stay away from the term “anti-gravity” because I was enough of a science nut to know that such a thing was dubious. But I also suspected that there might be science principles yet to be discovered. I was willing to give it a try anyway, and did for a few years. It was also my introduction to the world of high voltage… DC. Everything came out null though, meaning that any effects could be accounted for by some form of ionization or Coulomb force. At no time did I get anything to actually fly, though there was a lot of spinning things on rotors or weight changes on scales and balances due to ion propulsion.

So when a video appeared in 2001 from a small company called Transdimensional Technologies of a triangle shaped, aluminum foil and wire thing called a lifter that actually propelled itself off the table, I immediately had to make one. I’d had enough background by then to be confident that it was flying using ion propulsion. And in fact, given my background I was able to put an enhancement in my first version that others came up with only later.

For those who’ve never seen a lifter, it’s extremely simple. Think of it as a very leaky capacitor. One electrode is an aluminum foil skirt, in the shape of a triangle. Spaced apart from that around an inch or so away, usually using 1/6″ balsa wood sticks, is a very thin bare wire (think 30AWG) also shaped as a triangle. High voltage is applied between the foil skirt and the wire. The result is that a downward jet of air is created around and through the middle of the triangle and the lifter flies up off the table. But that is just the barest explanation of how it works. We must go deeper!

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