Hair-Raising Tales of Electrostatic Generators

We tend to think of electricity as part of the modern world. However, Thales of Mietus recorded information about static electricity around 585 BC.  This Greek philosopher found that rubbing amber with fur would cause the amber to attract lightweight objects like feathers. Interestingly enough, a few hundred years later, the aeolipile — a crude steam engine sometimes called Hero’s engine — appeared. If the ancients had put the two ideas together, they could have invented the topic of this post: electrostatic generators. As far as we know, they didn’t.

It would be 1663 before Otto von Guericke experimented with a sulfur globe rubbed by hand. This led to Isaac Newton suggesting glass globes and a host of other improvements from other contributors ranging from a woolen pad to a collector electrode. By 1746, William Watson had a machine consisting of multiple glass globes, a sword, and a gun barrel. Continue reading “Hair-Raising Tales of Electrostatic Generators”

Hackaday Links: Some Sort Of Fool’s Day, 2018

A few years ago, writing for a blog called Motherboard of all things, [Emanuel Maiberg] wrote PC Gaming Is Still Way Too Hard. The premise is that custom building a gaming PC is too hard, because you have to source components and comparison shop. Again, this was written for Motherboard. Personally, I would have shopped that story around a bit more. Now, the same author is back again, telling us PC Building Simulator is way more fun than building a real computer. It’s my early nomination for worst tech article of the year.

Speaking of motherboards, This is a GoFundMe project to re-create the Amiga 4000 mainboard, with schematics. Building PCs is too hard, but the Amiga architecture is elegant. Some of these boards are dying due to electrolytic capacitor and battery leakage. This project is aiming to deconstruct an original A4000 board and turn it into Gerbers and schematics, allowing new boards to be manufactured. Building a PC is way too hard, but with this GoFundMe, you won’t have to design an entire system from scratch. Don’t worry, I already tipped off the Motherboard editors to this one.

Alright, story time. In 6th grade science class, the teacher was awesome. On the days when there was really no chance of any learning happening (the day before Christmas break, the last day of school), the teacher broke out the Electric Chicken. What’s an Electric Chicken? It’s a test tube rack, two wires, and a Wimshurst generator. “Here, grab ahold of this for as long as you can.” It got even cooler when you get a bunch of kids to hold hands and tell them pride is better than pain. Here’s a Kickstarter for a mini Wimshurst generator. It’s made out of PCBs! Hat tip to [WestfW] for finding this one.

It’s no secret that I get a lot of dumb press releases. Most of these are relegated to the circular file folder. It’s also no secret I get a lot of ICO announcements hitting my email. These, also, are trashed. I recently received a press release for an ICO that goes beyond anything else. ONSTELLAR is a blockchain-powered social media network for paranormal and metaphysical enthusiasts.  It’s the crypto for Coast to Coast AM listeners, UFO enthusiasts, and people who think PKE meters are real. This is it, we’ve reached peak crypto.

If you want to decapsulate an IC — and why wouldn’t you? — the usual way of doing things involves dropping acid, ego death, toxic chemicals, and a fume hood. There is another way. Here’s [A Menadue] decapping a quartz watch IC with just fire. The process is about as ‘hold my beer’ as you would expect. Just take a small butane torch, heat up a chip, and recover the die. A bit of ultrasonic cleaning later and you get a pretty clean chip. Microscope not included.

Bicycle Racing In Space Could be a Thing

It’s 2100 AD, and hackers and normals live together in mile-long habitats in the Earth-Moon system. The habitat is spun up so that the gravity inside is that of Earth, and for exercise, the normals cycle around on bike paths. But the hackers do their cycling outside, in the vacuum of space.

How so? With ion thrusters, rocketing out xenon gas as the propellant. And the source of power? Ultimately that’s the hackers’ legs, pedaling away at a drive system that turns two large Wimshurst machines.

Those Wimshurst machines then produce the high voltage needed for the thruster’s ionization as well as the charge flow. They’re also what gives the space bike it’s distinctly bicycle-like appearance. And based on the calculations below, this may someday work!

Continue reading “Bicycle Racing In Space Could be a Thing”

Wimshurst Machines: High Voltage from the Gods

Wimshurst machine demo
Wimshurst machine demo

The Wimshurst machine is one of the oldest and best known electrostatic machines, consisting of its iconic two counter rotating disks and two Leyden jars. Most often you see someone hand cranking it, producing sparks, though we’ve seen it used for much more, including for powering a smoke precipitator for cleaning up smoke and even for powering a laser.

It works through an interesting sequence of events. Most explanations attempt to cram it all into one picture, requiring some major mental gymnastics to visualize. This often means people give up, resigned to assume these work through some mythical mechanics that defy a mortal’s ability to understand.

So instead, let’s do a step-by-step explanation.

Continue reading “Wimshurst Machines: High Voltage from the Gods”

Legit Hack Creates TEA Laser Power by Mr. Wimshurst

It’s a bit scary what you can make with stuff found in the average household, provided you know what you’re doing. How about a TEA laser? Don’t have a high-voltage power supply to run it? Do what [Steven] of rimstar.org did, and power it with a homemade Wimshurst machine.

TEA lasers give off ultraviolet light. In order to see the beam, [Steven] aims it through a glass of water tinted with highlighting-marker juice and onto a sheet of white paper. [Steven] originally used his homemade 30kV DC power supply to light up his TEA laser. He made the laser itself from aluminium foil, angled aluminium, transparency sheets, some basic hardware components, and a 100kΩ resistor.

Although the components are simple, adjusting them so that the laser actually works is quite a feat. [Steven] says he burned holes through several transparencies and pieces of foil before getting it right. Using a Wimshurst machine to power the TEA laser takes another level of patience. It takes about 25 cranks of the static electricity-producing machine to build up enough energy to attempt lasing.

Want to make your own TEA laser, perhaps in a different configuration? [Steven]’s design was based on one of [sparkbangbuzz]’s lasers, which we covered several years ago.

Continue reading “Legit Hack Creates TEA Laser Power by Mr. Wimshurst”

Bicycle-Powered Wimshurst Machine

A lot of great pieces of real technology were inspired (or, at least, look like) pieces of technology from science fiction of the past. Like the smartphones of today have a surreal resemblance to the Star Trek communicators of the 60s, [Steve] took inspiration from a story about a bicycle racing in space and set out to make his own.

In the story, the bicycle wheels are replaced by electrostatic generators that power a type of (fictional) ion drive. Since an ion drive wouldn’t add much thrust to a bicycle operated on the Earth, [Steve] used the electrostatic generator he built to create a sparking light show. The generator is called a Wimshurst machine and has two counter-rotating discs which collect charge. The charge is dissipated across a spark gap which is placed where the bike light would normally go.

We don’t know if the sparks from the Wimshurst generator are enough for a proper headlight, but it’s definitely a cool effect. [Steve] also points out that it might also work as a bug zapper, but either way you should check out the video after the break to see it in action! While it’s not quite a tricorder it’s still a pretty impressive sci-fi-inspired build, and something that’s definitely unique in the bicycle realm.

There’s quite a collection of these Wimshurst projects beginning to come together. Here’s one made using a trio of soda bottles, and another example which used 3D printing.

Continue reading “Bicycle-Powered Wimshurst Machine”

3D Printed Wimshurst Machine

Steampunk extraordinaire [Jake von Slatt] has released his latest creation. This time he’s built a Wimshurst machine from mostly 3D printed parts. The Wimshurst machine is an electrostatic generator and was originally invented in the late 1800’s by James Wimshurst. It uses two counter-rotating disks to generate an electrostatic charge which is then stored in two Leyden jars. These jars are also connected to a spark gap. When the voltage raises high enough, the jars can discharge all at once by flashing a spark across the gap.

[Jake’s] machine has a sort of Gothic theme to it. He designed the parts using Autodesk’s 123D Design. They were initially printed in PLA. Skate bearings were used in the center of the disks to ensure a smooth rotation. The axle was made from the fiberglass shaft of a driveway reflector. The vertical supports were attached the base with machine screws.

The Leyden jars were made from sections of clear plastic tube. The caps for the jars were 3D printed and are designed to accept a short length of threaded 1/8″ pipe. Copper wire was used for the interior contacts and are held in place with electrical tape. The metal sectors on each disk were made from pieces of cut aluminum tape.

You may be wondering how this machine works if it’s almost entirely made out of plastic. [Jake] actually painted most of the parts with a carbon paint. This makes them electrically conductive and he can then use the parts to complete electrical circuits. Unfortunately he found this to be rather ineffective. The machine does work, but it only produces sparks up to 1/2″ in length. For comparison, his other machine is capable of 6″ sparks using similar sized Leyden jars.

[Jake] actually tried rebuilding this project using ABS, thinking that the PLA may have been collecting moisture from his breath, but the result is still only 1/2″ sparks. He suspects that the bumpy surface of the plastic parts may be causing the charge to slowly leak away, preventing a nice build up. He’s released all of his designs on Thingiverse in case any other hackers want to give it a whirl.