Friday, September 3, 2010


I've been ill for a bit over a week, but am getting better.  I have only small, incremental progress to report for any of the current projects.

I'll cover those bits of progress in a moment, but first I want to talk about a fellow named Jim Sanborn.  Jim Sanborn is an American artist known for his complex, often technical sculptures, installation pieces, and outdoor exhibits.

Perhaps his best-known work is Kryptos, a large copper sculpture located on the grounds of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Langley, Virginia.

However, what Jim Sanborn does that is of interest to mad scientists is his work revolving around nuclear science, including the birth of the nuclear weapon. Recently I was privileged to view his installation - titled "Terrestrial Physics" - at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver for their show "Energy Effects" which includes work from over a dozen artists. This is where I would link to all the photographs I took of the exhibit. They exist, but as I said earlier, I've been ill, so I haven't vetted, edited, and uploaded them anywhere yet. I'll post something when I do. And if you're not too far from Denver, you owe it to yourself to see Energy Effects before it leaves town -- especially before Jim Sanborn's portion is removed, some time later this month. Call the museum for more information.

That exhibit lit a fire under me, and a long-suppressed desire to build a small particle accelerator has blossomed again. That exhibit also lit a fire under a good friend of mine who also has a penchant for mad science. As a result, he's preparing to build a small Van de Graaff-driven electron accelerator that will fit on a table-top. I'm not ready to go that far right now, but I am interested in building a particle accelerator some day, and that requires high vacuum equipment, and THAT brings me -- finally! -- to the progress report, since my high vacuum system is one of the things I've been working on for the last few weeks, albeit slowly. So without further ado...

1. The MSLS:
I now have all of the parts, which is to say, all of the correct parts, to finish the MSLS. The last one arrived yesterday. I'm going to push forward until the thing is in working order, and I may decide to completely ignore the special effects components for the time being. I need to get this thing out of my hair and more importantly, off of my bench, at least for a few months. Unfortunately, I put some big ugly blemishes on the once-beautiful plastic and brass safety shield for the Jacob's Ladder while I was gluing the top vent baffle in place. I've been working on polishing them out, but I am not very good at this sort of thing, and mostly I seem to be making it worse. I now think I have a handle on what works and what doesn't, so I'll revisit that... eventually. If I feel sufficiently better, it's possible I could have the thing finished except for those repairs, by the end of the Labor Day Weekend.

2. the high vacuum system:
It's not clear whether it leaks any longer. It might not, but I STILL do not trust the gauge electronics I have on hand. I have two complete sets installed now, but the controller I am using to check the electronics built into the system is older than I am and runs on vacuum tubes. I like vacuum tubes, they're hard to kill, although systems built with them are less efficient, take up more space, and generate more heat, than their solid state counterparts. I don't have a great deal of trust for fifty year old capacitors, but that controller does seem to be operating, and best of all, it agrees with the electronics in the unit.

The good friend mentioned above loaned me yet another vacuum gauge - a T/C gauge only, no ion tube - to give me yet another cross-check on the other T/C gauges, and we KNOW that the third gauge is in good working order, because... um... it's been stored in a dirty shed for ten years. Okay, we don't know whether that one can be trusted either.

But if all three gauges agree, we can be reasonably certain they are all correct. Why? Because the odds are very much against all three of them being off from a true reading by the exact same amount.

Unfortunately, the sensor cable for that unit died of old age while it was lying around (or maybe even before that) so I'm going to replace it - also this weekend.

As soon as the above is done, I'll go grab myself some dry ice and a handle-jug of Everclear (for my cold trap) and do another test run to see if I have small leaks. Since I brought the thing home, I have never convinced it to let me turn on the ion gauge tube. Hopefully this time I will be able to turn on at least one of the two ion gauge systems, so that if there is a leak, I can try sniffing for it with helium.

3. I've listed some of my other projects in previous posts. I'm not feeling up to continuing the list with detailed descriptions and discussions for each item, but I'd like to show just how naive and ambitious I am, so I have listed below all of the science-y projects I've done in the past, projects I'm working on now, and projects I'd like to finish before I'm ready for the crematorium:

* Van de Graaff generator #1 - didn't work, but I was only 12 years old
* electronic thermometer
* triode-driven Tesla coil
* high sensitivity, high stability electronic thermometer for biofeedback study
* 12kW Tesla coil #1
* 12kW Tesla coil #2
* 12kW Tesla coil #3 - used as the basis for DiaboliCo's first Tesla coil product
* 1.2kW Tesla coil #1 - DiaboliCo's second Tesla coil product
* several mediocre pneumatic guns, and one or two quite good ones
* (I bet I am forgetting a few things here)

* MSLS - A Mad Scientist's Light Switch
* high vacuum system
* TLTC - The Last Tesla Coil (my last, at any rate)
* fast pulser - 18,000 watt-seconds of danger
* railgun #2 - powered by the pulser
* fast miniature Marx generator (100kV)
* fast large Marx generator (1MV) for DEW studies

* electrothermal gun - powered by the pulser - fairly easy & quick
* tabletop EMP simulator, powered by the 100kV micro-Marx
* 1MV (?) Van de Graaff generator - for the accelerator below
* 1 MeV proton accelerator - yes, really.
* electron microscope
* DEW studies (TEMP, not HERF)

Last but not least, I once seriously considered building a pulsed radiation source. It would have to be either electrons or x-rays, for what I hope are semi-obvious reasons. A gamma ray machine would be entertaining but let's be realistic here: for one, there is no way in hell I am going to generate an e-beam with enough energy to to make Bremsstrahlung gamma rays in my garage and on a mortal's budget. Second, the shielding is non-trivial. Say you have just enough lead around your operation to stop all of the gamma rays. Guess what comes out the other side? High energy X-rays! So now you need more lead to stop the high energy X-rays. Guess what comes out the other side? Low energy x-rays! So now you need even more lead.

So yeah, I soon thought better of that idea. After all, if I do that, I can't very well look down upon the clowns on YouTube who play with exposed magnetrons or shove fireworks up their butts, now can I? If I had more money than I do, and plenty of space for things like drums full of water, I could do it safely. But I don't, so I can't, so I won't.

Obviously, many of these projects depend on each other. The prerequisites will get built first.

Okay, that list is complete enough that I shouldn't have to do that again.

Any questions?

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