This is a quick and simple project that is a bit old but still always a delight to see. Who doesn’t love staring at those high voltage sparks moving upwards again and again on the background of a mad scientist’s laboratory? Since we have a few high voltage transformers around here, I thought I could make a Jacob’s Ladder as a last minute project to add to the ones that would be presented on the Open Day.
Last Thursday, the University of the Algarve organized once more its annual open day, where it showcases their curricular offers to young students from all over the regional high schools. The Electrical Engineering Department asked us to be a part of the event and to prepare a small demonstration of our own projects to help motivate and inspire these young minds.
Nixie tubes are electronic devices for displaying numerals or other information, such symbols or letters. They work under the principle called Glow Discharge. Basically, they are tubes filled with a low-pressure mix of gasses and two (or more) metal electrodes. When a voltage is applied to two of this electrodes, and such voltage exceeds a certain value called the striking voltage, the gas in the tube ionizes, becoming a plasma, and begins conducting electricity, causing it to glow with a colored light (depending on the gas filling the tube, for tubes with neon this color is red-orange).
An ion thruster is a type of electrical propulsion system used for spacecraft propulsion capable of creating thrust by accelerating ions. Back in June 2015, I remember seeing this demonstration for the first time on Makezine, by Alexander Reifsnyder. I thought it was amazing for its scientific value and at the same time quite easy to build, so me and Hugo thought we could make our own version of it, using 3D printed parts.
Probably the most dangerous project we ever built in eLab, but still, also one of the funniest! The Tesla Coil, an air core electrical resonant transformer, invented by Nikola Tesla at the end of the XIX century, able to generate high voltages at high frequencies, resulting in electrical discharges just like small lightning.