Category Archives: Physics


I was curious as to what effects different types of ionizing radiation would have on transistor die so I cut open two TO3 packages to test first hand. Even if the these die will not be sensitive enough to use as ionizing radiation detectors, they are still interesting to study and to experiment with; including to determine at what level/strength of EMP will cause them to fail.

Low-cost HV feedthrough

Generating radiation to test sensing circuits to use in my wearable ionizing radiation detector is not without some issues. The two ways that I know to solve problems are to either throw as much money at it until arriving at a solution or  figure out other ways to solve the problem that don’t cost a lot of money.  Option one has never been much of an option.
The high voltage feedthrough is one such obstacle in the process of cobbling together a vacuum system. The  Kurt Lesker Company engineers and manufactures high-quality vacuum accessories.  Their feedthroughs rated for 13 A at 12kv and made from Molybdenum start at $590.
An $11 Champion spark plug should work for my application.Champion f121501
When researching my solution I came across the interesting image below.  One thing I have learned over the years is that I am far more likely to receive the information that I need from knowledgeable sources if it sounds like I know something about what it is that I am asking after.
Parts of a spark plug
Just as a postscript, one would think that Ford Motor Company would know about spark plugs.
This story suggests otherwise.






DOD to release Electromagnetic Spectrum

I applaud the recent decision from the Department of Defense to release the Electromagnetic Spectrum.  That freedom serves the best interests of intrinsic physical reality which humanity and the universe depends upon.   The capture and detention must have certainly been mythic in scale and scope and should be turned into a Hollywood film (Raiders of the Lost Ark).  Could it be that the electromagnetic spectrum was stuffed into Pandora’s mythical box like some peripatetic west wind?  Regardless of the black ops  technology, I rejoice in the knowledge that the Electromagnetic Spectrum has been released.    You should too.

DOD to release electromagnetic spectrum

EG&G HY-5353 Fast-Rise Deuterium Thyratron 5 kA @ 75 kV

Just what was needed for the EMP generator.

EG&G HY-5353 Fast-Rise Deuterium Thyratron 5 kA @ 75 kV

Just what was needed for the EMP generator.



Need to bend and melt borosilicate glass for experimental apparatus. Turns out that I need to get my material to 1510 F for forming. Made the mistake of asking a question of my thesis adviser which I should have first researched on my own. Will try not to let that happen again.

It’s been fifty years since I last worked glass; still have the scars in my hands and fingers. This time I need to use more patience.

Adiabatic flame temperatures for some common fuel gases:

Fuel Gas Combustion with Oxygen
Combustion with Air
Acetylene 3480 2500
Butane 1970
Carbon Monoxide 2121
Ethane 1955
Hydrogen 3200 2210
MAPP 2927 2010
Methane 1950
Natural Gas 1960
Propane 2526 2392
Propane Butane Mix 1970

A Fisher burner using propane will work.


I’ve been thinking about making as much as I can from recycled (or found) items and have started a DIY category for this blog.

This particular project is an electroscope. Electroscopes are one of the earliest types of instruments used to detect the presence of electrical charges. In the realm of physics, they are another way to render the invisible visible. They are old world, old school, and they do not require batteries. This is not the first electroscope I have constructed.

After I first read about electroscopes I needed to test what I had discovered.  Back then I would conduct experiments using my little brothers as test subjects. To demonstrate the presence of electrical charges I would shuffle my slippered feet on the wool carpeting and touch whoever was closest with an antennae from a transistor radio. Sometimes I would have to chase them to finish my tests. Since they were little, they couldn’t run very fast; they could never escape. But they did yell.  All in the name of science.

An evolved appreciation of humanity (and understanding of the legal system) has modified my research methods to that of a more classical approach.

This electroscope was made from a vinegar bottle, rubber stopper, copper wire, and some Aluminum foil. I charged and tested the instrument with a pvc pipe which  which was first rubbed with a cotton dish towel.

The big surprise came during my demonstration to my wife.  Allyson noticed that the  mobile was also moving in response to the proximity of the charge.  I thought that was pretty neat.  You can see this action in the second video.


Faraday’s spiral

Earlier this semester I presented a model based on an Alexander Calder mobile.  It was fun to build and, oddly, I learned a lot.   During presentation Artist-Professor Eric Hagan made a remark which resonated to what another professor said to me during my first semester at ITP.   While I forget exactly what he said, both comments expressed the same thought:  “OK that’s great.  But I’d like to see you go further.”   My immediate reaction was, “further than Calder?  Not possible.”  But it was still a challenge that preoccupied my semester.

Time in graduate school has given me the space to examine much of what has been an endless source of fascination for me since I was six years old, which is pretty much everything!

Specifically though, just now, the preoccupation is with nuclear forces; the movement of sub-atomic parts/units/fields/packets/waves/quanta of energy (electrons, protons, neutrons, etc.) which I am trying to wrap my consciousness into.  This is a world whose architecture would seem to be modeled after a celestial map of creation.  Every detail seen, appreciated, and missed,  possesses significance.  I cannot begin to imagine a world as complex as human society on an atomic, cosmic, human-sized scale: that’s more than my pea brain can comprehend.  For now I am trying to understand one tiny phenomenon at a time.

This past year I have been thinking more about magnetic fields and how it is that non-magnetic objects are physically moved through space using otherwise invisible energetic agents.

Wandering the streets of London about ten years ago, I discovered a museum which featured Michael Faraday’s laboratory in the basement of a London townhouse.   Seeing his old wooden work bench, the tools which he used, a letter to him from Galvani, and a model of the first toroidal transformer, was an extra-ordinary experience.  I couldn’t help but think that his work area looked a lot like mine, except that he had more things made with wood, brass, and style.

Faraday discovered a lot things.  Electrolysis and electroplating for one (two?).  Another find (besides the dynamo generator) was the movement of electrons through copper wire.

That’s the background, how I arrived at creating sculptural objects from something simple while learning and discovering so much in the process: thank you  Erics Rosenthal and Hagan for leading this horse to water.

…. the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible ….” – Albert Einstein

Watching the wire repeat an eccentric orbit without gears, flywheels, pulleys, or sails is fascinating.  Magnet + Electrochemical Cell (source of electrons) + Conductive metal (non-magnetic wire) + correct arrangement = Motion.

When I worked on repeating Faraday’s experiment, I learned more than I ever did through reading about him and his work.  Experimenting with varying strengths of magnets and cells as well as the diameter of the wire, and how these variables  with affect the speed and strength of movement is very interesting.

The demonstration on this page would have been cause for burning at the stake in 1693
The demonstrations on this page would have been cause to be burned at the stake in 1693

Putting these experiments in an historical context is interesting for other reasons.

The Wonders of the Invisible World:
The misguided at Salem’s Witch Trials missed the mark.  Real magic occurs at the subatomic level.   It is a realm where forces which would otherwise remain invisible are made manifest through intensive research, theory, and experimentation.

Every technology which we interact with has beginnings which are no less inspiring now than when they were first discovered.

Without these discoveries, Duracell batteries (cells), copper wire, and magnets would not be the common objects which they are today, as well as the foundations of still developing machines which are fundamental to the world which we inhabit.


Clarendon Bell

Some batteries last longer than others. This one has been running since at least 1840, possibly fifteen years earlier.

Clarendon Bell – running since 1840 on same dry pile batteries.

More on the Oxford Electric Bell or Clarendon Dry Pile – one of the longest running science experiments in the world.

More on the battery:
Zamboni/Duluc Dry Pile

Oxford Electric Bell

Interestingly, the Clarendon/Oxford Bell is a permutation of a Lightning Bell invented in 1742 and used by Ben Franklin in 1752.