Electronics Mods, Physics / Science, Other Projects Recap

So since these areas aren’t as dense I’m going to recap them all in one post here. I’ll follow the same format as the woodworking recap, and list each project with some photos and a summary of what was done, etc…

Electronics Modification Projects

Twilight Turtle Mod:
Twilight Turtle Mod Twilight Turtle Mod

View Project Video »

We’ve used a twilight turtle in our son’s room since he started sleeping in there at nights. We have loved it for the most part, however the inability to keep it on all night, and the need to change batteries motivated me to take it apart and make it better. In addition to adding a wall plug, the modified turtle also has a night / day sensor mode, and an automatic / random color rotation mode.

The microcontroller used for this project was a PIC16F506. The original buttons and LEDs from the twilight turtle were used, and simply interfaced with the new pcb I added. The microcontroller was programmed using MPLAB 8 with the HI-TECH C compiler.

Physics / Science Projects

Van de Graaff Generator:
Van de Graaff Generator 12 inch spark

View Project Video »

I’m always trying to think of new ways to keep the kiddo entertained, and when I was in high school my father purchased one of these for a project in my high school physics class. I remember not only how much fun it was, but also how safe the device was ( outside of the slight discomfort of an accidental spark hitting your body ). How can 100kV-200kV be safe? Well the device puts out an extremely small amount of current. At any rate, it was the winter time and cabin fever must have set in, so I decided to build my own Van de Graaff generator. The build is fairly simple, and there is a ton of good information from other sources online with regard to designing one of these. Checkout the project video for a good overview and operation demo at the end. Rowan really loved stacking aluminum cup cake cups on the sphere and watching them fly all over the place.

Volta’s Hailstorm:
Volta's Hailstorm Volta's Hailstorm

View Project Video »

Well, Rowan quickly became bored of the Van de Graaff generator – at his age it is to be expected. I was looking around for additional experiments that could be done with the generator above and beyond sparks, electrostatic repulsion, etc… I happened upon a video of a “Volta’s Hailstorm Box” on youtube, and really thought Rowan be captivated by the floating balls. The build was fairly simple, though it’s hard to run high voltage through regular insulated wire – very quickly corona discharges puncture the insulation and form along the wires which reduces the effectiveness of the hailstorm. You can buy high voltage wire online, but I never ended up getting any… You’ll also notice that I made the top and bottom of the hailstorm out of wood. I would not recommend wood, as at these voltages it becomes conductive ( get shocked every time you touch the device until discharged ).

Overhead Water Rocket Launcher:
Water Rocket Launcher + Rocket

Quick Video Of Me Launching a Rocket »

Well summer 2012, and what could be more fun than launching 2L pop bottles 100-200 feet into the air? In my mind nothing :) Earlier in the summer I picked up one of those cheap hand water rocket launchers from the local drug store. Rowan really took interest in it, though it was very hard for him to use and became a source of frustration rather quickly.  When I was in middle school, my father made me one of these for a science project, and I remember how much fun I had working on it and the rockets with him. The launcher he made had a wood base, nozzle, and two pieces of steel strip connected to cord that would release the rocket when ready. Since the pressure in the bottle can be rather dangerous at close contact, especially if the rocket launches accidentally before expected, I decided to build an overhead launcher which would keep the rocket well above any of the kiddos, and would require that a parent operate it at all times. It is a tube style launcher, with the zip tie style lock/release mechanism. There is a lot of area inside the launcher for pressurized air, as the main tube is 2″ PVC conduit about 5ft tall. I’ve had some great success launching some quickly built rockets, but the kids mainly find launching the plain pop bottles just as fun.

I’ve at this point retired the launcher as Rowan does not like the noise that it makes when the rocket launchers :( maybe I will revisit this when he gets older.

Play Structure Ball Drop:
Play Structure Ball Drop Balls Drop Into Bucket Ball Drop Starting Position

Video of the Play Structure Ball Drop »

Another quick project in 2012 was this ball drop that I added to Rowan’s play structure which is made out of 2″ PVC conduit and some PVC elbows. Rowan really didn’t use the play structure too much, other than swinging and the sandbox. Whenever we would take a trip down to the Montshire Museum, Rowan would love their little ball drop setup in the toddler area. I finally decided to add something similar to our play structure with the hope that it would make it a bit more fun to play on. In addition to the ball drop I also added a bucket / pulley system such that the balls would drop into the bucket at the end of the run. Once all the balls were down there, the kids could hoist up the balls using the pulley system in order to start over again without leaving the fort area.

Other Projects

Backyard Ice Rink:
2011 - Ice Rink

My wife has always wanted her very own ice rink, and what better a place to do it than in Vermont. Being that she has played hockey her whole life ( college hockey too ), how could I say no? Plus, how awesome would it be as a kid to have your own ice rink every winter? The last time I had the Rink Up was in 2011, it had lights, boards, and a changing bench.

Squirrel Proof Bird Feeder:
Squirrel Proof Bird Feeder

View Project Video »
View Project Instructable »

I am embarrassed to admit it, but I had spent quite a few years trying to prevent squirrels from getting at the bird seed in our feeders. I tried all sorts of things, but finally came up with this design and I haven’t had a single squirrel get to the bird seed since. The key is the stove pipe baffle below the feeder tray – it is tall enough that the squirrel cannot jump over it to the tray, and the pipe has a large enough diameter such that the squirrel cannot climb it. The forms that keep the baffle centered on the pole are toward the top and middle of the pipe, and I have found mainly that the squirrel will climb the post up inside the stove pipe and stay there for a few moments, come back down and leave. The top tray easily accommodates a tube feeder.


4 thoughts on “Electronics Mods, Physics / Science, Other Projects Recap

  1. Regarding the Van de Graaff: awesome stuff, I’m a big fan of HV. But I have to admit: somehow in my several decades of playing with these things since very young school age I never came across a “Volta’s Hailstorm Box”. I don’t know how could it happen, but this page is the first reference to it that I’ve ever seen. So, what are the “hail” particles made of?

    Also, about the (unwanted) corona discharges, they make a coating called “corona dope” – it’s a type of varnish that you apply to sharp metal edges, around connectors and other points susceptible to discharges and it creates a dielectric barrier that prevents coronas. It’s also very often used to coat the crack between the two halves of the VDG top spherical terminal to prevent losses there. I have a bottle of MG Chemicals’ Super Corona Dope and it works a treat and isn’t expensive.

    • Hey Nick,

      I never really knew about the Hailstorm Box myself until after making the generator, and really started searching the net for other experiments that could be done with the Van de Graaff. It is definitely an obscure project, and I only found a few references to it myself. The Hailstorm Box really seemed like an exciting project to show to the kiddo, and that prompted me to build one. The particles in the box are foam balls coated with india ink ( which is conductive ).

      Thanks for the suggestion on ‘corona dope’, at the time I was looking at possibly buying some HV wire, but never got to it. The kiddo lost interest and I haven’t had a chance to get back to it. If I ever do I’ll definitely look this up though and give it a try, especially if it is a more cost effective solution than HV wire.


  2. I’m sure it’s not your favorite project, but I think your Twighlight Turtle project is probably of interest to a lot of parents. If not instructions, might you post the adapter and/or other parts you used other than the ‘brain’? Thanks!

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