3D Printed Ceramic Calibration Piece

26 09 2012

All Photos.

Received a 3D printed ceramic calibrations piece from shapeways. As you can see the glazing adds about 0.11mm to the surface:

By Mark Suppes

Polywell Assembly Overhaul

26 08 2012

It’s clear from the inconclusive results of the symmetry test that our experimental apparatus isn’t durable enough. It needs to for a long period of time over the course of many trials, without breaking. Every time it breaks, we need to open up the chamber and fix it. In doing so, we inevitably make some slight change to the alignment of the components, the material makeup of the assembly, etc. Each of these changes introduces unknowns. This makes it difficult to compare the results of one set of trials to another, and thus difficult to accumulate the date we need to actually demonstrate something conclusively. To make matters worse, we aren’t getting deep vacuums because the much of the plastic and rubber components of the assembly are out-gassing.

It’s as though instead of running one experiment a thousand times, we run a hundred slightly different experiments ten times each.

In a word, the three main problems with the old polywell assembly are alignment, structural integrity, and vacuum compatibility. I designed a new assembly which should remedy these problems. instead of multiple separate components, it will be one solid piece of 3D printed ceramic which include a core, acclerator anode, hot cathode, and langmuir probe, all bolted to the 8” conflat flange:

The two feet (bottom left) will be bolted to the conflat flange.

Close-up of the hot cathode holder:

The cathode holder is actually two pieces which sandwich two 2o mm lengths of 10-gauge solid copper wire between them into the inside grooves (A). The grooves on the outside of the cathode holder accept zip ties which will hold the copper wires firmly in place (B). Once the wires are secured, the whole thing is put into place against the left column, and another zip tie is slipped through the hole (C) on the extreme left of the cathode holder and looped around the column. This connection will be strong  enough to prevent the cathode holder from moving during setup/normal operation.  A light bulb filament, serving as the cathode itself, is soldered to the ends of the copper wires.

Close-up of the anode holder:

The anode, a copper cylinder,  is put into the crescent moon shaped space (A), and a zip tie goes around it and through the hole (B), and secures it to the assembly.

Langmuir probe holder:

The langmuir probe fits int the groove in the cylinder (A), and attached with a zip tie or perhaps teflon tape. It extends into the center of the core, indicated by the blue sphere (B). The cylinder is oriented and positioned such that the langmuir probe will extend into the center of the core.

Here’s the new langmuir probe:

The new langmuir probe is a strand of wire inside a very thin ceramic tube. The 9-volt battery on the right is for scale.


The coils fit into the cavities in the core, and then covers go over them. The covers will be secured with zip ties or perhaps hose clamps.

Other than the zip ties and wires, all of this will be made of ceramic. The zip ties will be made of tefzel, a strong, heat tolerant, and highly vacuum compatible material similar to teflon. All wire insulation will be teflon.  This assembly will be heat resistant, electrically insulating, and much more rugged than previous designs. Ideally, we will be able to put it together, put it into the chamber, pump down to much deeper vacuum, and do hundreds of trails without anything breaking. moving, or changing shape.

In order to work at all, this design has to be compatible with the vaccum chamber and conflats that we already had. If one dimension is even slightly off, then the whole thing fails. To prevent that, I first took measnurements of the chamber and flange, and maodeled exact copies of them in OpenSCAD, and built this assembly inside the chamber :

Here you can see the conflat flange (left) and the chamber. Notice that the blue sphere, which indicate the center of the polywell is not centered in the chamber. By offsetting the core slightly, I was able to get more clearance between the walls of the chamber and the core, which in turn allowed for a larger coil radius.

Another pic of the whole thing:

While I have uploaded these models to shapeways, they will probebly not be the ones we actually have printed. This is more of a first draft.

The source code is here

Domenick Bauer

Inconclusive Symmetry Test

14 08 2012

The symmetry test was an experiment we ran to determine if our potential well was symmetrical across its x-axis. It featured three langmuir probes, one in the center, on at the extreme left, and one at the extreme right. more details are in this post.

While there were a few interesting results few interesting results, on the whole the experiment was inconclusive, and totaled our electron gun assembly.

The first problem we encountered was the vacuum level. We barely got into the 10^-4 Torr range, and when we turned on the electron beam, the pressure went up into the 10^-3 Torr range. High pressures like these don’t render the experiment impossible, but they certainly don’t help. Ideally, the only particles in the chamber would be electrons, and so everything else just adds to the list of unknown factors.

The e-gun was running normally, giving us readings of about -50VDC on the oscilloscope.

The glow from the hot cathode

For the first shot we did a control. We hooked up one probe to the center langmuir, and one the the shunt resistor on the on power supply, and we got a small well.


So everything was working as expected, despite the unusually high pressure. This is good, but also strange in light of the last test results, in which the charge at charge at the center of the core became less negative when we fired the coils.

Then we switched the oscilloscope probe on the coil power supply to the left langmuir probe, and fired.

Top: Left langmuir probe
Bottom: center langmuir probe

Nothing on the left langmuir. We tried again with more power going into the coils.

Here’s what we got

The charge at the leftmost extreme of the well is about -3VDC, and the charge at the center is about -10VDC. Not surprisingly, electron density has some relationship to distance from the center of the core. We intend to eventually define this relationship precisely, but to do so would require much more data.

Notice how even before the coils were fired, the top line is a slightly below its zero point (indicated by the crosses at the left of the screen). This means that for some reason, the left langmuir is brought to a slightly negative potential by the electron gun, even though it’s not pointed anywhere near the probe

We then switched the oscilloscope probe on the left langmuir to the right langmuir, and fired the core again. The moment we did, we heard a metallic noise from inside the chamber, like a coin dropping onto a metal surface. Can’t be good. This was the readout on the oscilloscope

Not especially meaningful to us.

We rightly assumed that the noise meant our trial was over, so we opened up the chamber.

We found the accelerator anode laying in the bottom of the chamber. The heat from the filament melted the plastic enough for the screw mounted in it to come loose. Everything around it was coated in a thin film of blue plastic, and much of the wire insulation was burnt as well.


Obviously, ABS plastic and rubber insulated wires just aren’t right for this experiment. They can’t take the heat of the cathode, and they out-gas so much that they ruin the vacuum.

Back to the drawing board.

Domenick Bauer

Safer Coil Power Supply

3 08 2012


All Photos (1/2)
All Photos (2/2)

The capacitor bank which powers the coils is very lethal; when fully charged, it dumps more than a megawatt into the coils. Needless to say, If I were to accidentally complete the circuit through my body, it would rearrrange my insides. To decrease the likelihood of such an occorence, I’ve done my best to idiot-proof it. Here’s how it looked before:

Pretty easy to thoughtlessly reach in and touch the dangerous parts.

So first, I took a broken shipping pallet that someone across the street was throwing away, and made a box out of it

The box fits nicely on the crate that we’ve been using as a controls stand


I also left the front partially open so they we could get at the controls

With this setup, the only thing you can touch is wood, plastic controls, and the grounded metal face of the box, so it would be pretty hard to blow your hand off.

The next step was making the HVDC out wires safer. (the fat green and yellow ones in the first pic) The way we had it, the only way to dissconnect them was to reach into the supply and unscrew the ring terminlas to which they were connected. Not great. To fix this, I installed a high current outlet onto the back of the box and connected some shorter wires.

The other hole is where the cord which plugs into the wall goes

Took the wires we had and connected them to a matching high current plug

Assembled (and labeled):


So now it’s pretty safe. In fact, it’s so safe that getting into the power supply at all istoo much of a pain. We don’t want to have to move this box every time we need to reset the breaker. To make access easier, I put hinges on the bottom of it (see above), and chains on the side, so it opens like a tool box.

MakerBot mailed me an iron-on patch with some supplies I ordered, so I taped it on for good luck. (top right)

Look’s pretty badass, kinda like a ten-cylinder car engine.



Here’s one more safety feature I added:

If you open the “hood”, the power cord is automatically pulled out. This way, it’s impossible to open the power supply while it’s plugged in.

The coil supply is idiot-proof, but isn’t so locked down that minor repairs and upgrades are too much of a hassle. This is one more step towards a streamlined, repeatable, experiment procedure.

Domenick Bauer


Electron Gun Trial Run Setup

31 05 2012

While the armature is approaching completion, we have yet to test the electron gun which it holds.  As described in earlier posts, it will consist of the cathode from an electron beam welder, a piece of copper tube for an accelerator anode, and a shard of phospher screen so that we can be sure it is actually shooting electrons.

This weekend, we will test a simplified version of this design. Instead of using the welder cathode, we use the tungsten filament from a broken light bulb, as suggested by Rehan:

Instead of using the phosphor screen, we will use the langmuir probe to detect the electrons.

In preparation, I have printed holders for the ceramic light bulb socket, and the accelerator anode so that the filament and the axis of the accelerator anode  are on the same line with each other and with the tip of the langmuir probe.

light bulb socket holder

ccelerator anode holder

both pieces together

Hopefully, this will work as a rudimentary way to inject electrons into the center of the reactor, deepening the potential well. If it does work, and we decide that we want an even deeper well, we will continue work on the original electron gun design.

Domenick Bauer

Electron Gun Armature

21 05 2012

One of the components of the electron gun is an armature which will hold the hot cathode, accelerator anode, and phosphor screen all in the same line with the center of the reactor.

This is a challenge because the armature must be an excellent electrical insulator and have a  high heat tolerance. The ideal material is ceramic.

The problem with ceramic is that it we cannot machine it into the unique shapes required, but we can 3D print it! I’ve modeled the armature shape in OpenSCAD:

Here’s a link to the source code

The three curved “feet” have the same curvature as the inside of the reactor chamber, so it will fit nicely and sit still in the bottom of it.

the first column on the left holds the cathode, the middle column, the accelerator anode, and the last, the phosphor screen. the black line will be the path of the electrons to the center of the reactor. Everything here is pretty much how it’s going to be on the final armature, except the phosphor screen will have a different shape, and the distances between the columns will be different as well.

The MakerBot wouldn’t be able to print this all in one shot, so I printed it in sections, and glued them together to get a feel for the final one.

The accelerator cradle

Column for hot cathode

Base of the armature

Earlier version of the base

Assembled armature with cathode and accelerator

Hopefully when I send this file out to be printed in ceramic, they will be able to do it all in one piece. If not, I’l have to find some way of gluing pieces together

Domenick Bauer

Measurements for Hot Cathode

3 05 2012

All photos.

See photos for measurements of hot cathode.

The next steps are modeling the hot cathode (plus clearance) and subtracting that from a cylinder in OpenSCAD:

MakerBot Thing-O-Matic Upgrades

29 11 2011

Not only can the Makerbot print its own upgrades. But these upgrades really improve the print quality. A virtuous cycle!

At this point my MakerBot TOM is finely tuned and making beautiful prints.

Here are all the upgrades I have installed:

Y-Axis Idler Support Bracket for Thing-O-Matic: This stabilizes the Y-axis idler.

Easy Install Thing-O-Matic Universal X & Y Axis Belt Tensioner: This is the single most important upgrade. The belt must be correctly tensioned for good prints!

HBP Quick Leveler Redux: Another essential upgrade to easily level the build platform.

Thing-O-Matic Electronics Side-Mount: At some point you will need to tweak the electronics. This mod makes it easier.

Thingomatic y-axis Endcaps: These endcaps make it easier to remove the Y-axis rods.

MakerBot Cable Clip: Nice clips for cable management.

Simple Tool Holder: Organize all the hex wrenches that come with your MakerBot.

I purchase two upgrades from MakerBot that are well worth it:

Aluminum Build Surface: This gives you nice flat and level prints. Seems like this should be included with the Thing-O-Matic!

MakerBot® Gen 4 Interface Board Kit v1.1: This allows you to run your MakerBot without a computer attached.


Here is an example print:

MakerBot Madness!

18 11 2011

All photos. More photos. More. And More.

So man this MakerBot TOM is fun!

I’ve been printing up a storm.

When you start using a MakerBot, you quickly realize you need a filament spooling solution. My starter filament became a tangled mess quickly.

I tried this filament spool but it had too much friction and would stop the extruder sometimes.

So I tried this frictionless design:


It works beautifully.

Next I printed this test lead organizer I really needed:


For fun I made this hyperboloid pencil holder:


I printed a lid from Polywell design I made a while back:


Then I realized MakerBot can print it’s own upgrades! So amazing.

I made these removable endcaps, this strain relief cable holder,  this Y-Axis Idler Support Bracket.

And last night I made this amazing diamond lattice model:


You can follow all my builds from my thingiverse profile.


13 11 2011

All photos.

The Makerbot is up and running. It was fun to put together.

I was able to do a few test prints:


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 630 other followers

%d bloggers like this: