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I previously worked on Virtual Reality and other hardware at Valve.  I currently work at Google[x].

Prior to starting at Valve, I built computer peripherals such as keyboards, mice, and joysticks that were designed to be used inside MRI machines.  My company, Mag Design and Engineering, sold these devices directly to researchers at academic institutions who used them to publish scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals.

After work, I spend time on many different types of projects that usually involve circuit design, machining, material selection, and general fabrication/hacking.  My favorite place to be is my home workshop.

ben dot krasnow at gmail




Thursday, November 24, 2011

Laser microphone for audio surveillance via window panes

I bounced a laser beam off of a window in my house and recovered the audio from inside the room via the beam deflection. I used a Hamamatsu S7815 amplified photodiode and connected it with a 9V battery to my stereo's microphone input jack. The audio quality was very low -- probably due to the double-pane windows in my house. Speech was just barely intelligible.

I also tested the procedure of bouncing a laser beam off of a framed picture that is hanging on the wall inside the room to be monitored. The reflected beam will hit a wall somewhere else in the room, and the dot can be monitored by a telescope from remote. The goal would be to measure the beam wobble via the telescope and recover the audio without needing a stringent geometric relation to the target room. This didn't work at all, but I think with a sensitive detector, it has potential.

More about laser microphones:

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Making silica aerogel at home

I followed instructions in the silica TMOS recipe from http://www.aerogel.org and successfully produced some small pieces of aerogel in my home shop.

The two main difficulties are: 1. Getting TMOS or TEOS (the key chemical ingredient), and 2. Building a supercritical drying chamber. The components for the chamber can be bought from http://www.mcmaster.com or another source of industrial pipe fittings. You'll also need a supply of liquid carbon dioxide. I used a 20-lbs cylinder, which I bought from a local welding store. Most of the cost is in the cylinder itself, since a refill costs only $20 to $30. You may find a welding supply shop that will rent the cylinder.

Getting the TMOS is difficult since chemical suppliers are generally unwilling to sell to individuals.

The process to make aerogel is:

1. Mix TMOS, methanol, and ammonium hydroxide. Pour this mixture into molds, and wait for a gel to form.
2. Submerge the gel in methanol, and wait a day for the remaining water in the gel to diffuse into the methanol.
3. Discard the methanol, and replace with fresh methanol. Wait a day, and repeat. Repeat this process a few times over three days.
4. Transfer the gel into the supercritical drying chamber, and fill the chamber with methanol.
5. Add liquid CO2, then open the chamber's bottom valve to remove the methanol. Make sure the gels are always covered with liquid CO2.
6. Wait a day for methanol to diffuse into the liquid CO2.
7. Open the bottom valve and remove more methanol.
8. Repeat the methanol draining procedure while making sure the gels stay submerged in liquid CO2. Repeat the CO2 draining/exchange a couple times over 2-3 days.
9. Raise the chamber temperature to cause the CO2 to become supercritical. Slowly vent the chamber while applying heat to ensure the CO2 moves from the supercritical phase to the gas phase. Continue venting the chamber slowly, then remove the finished aerogels.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Carbonated fruit: apple slices

In a previous video, I used a stainless steel water bottle as a pressure chamber to add argon and carbon dioxide to beer. This time, I used pure CO2 to carbonate some apple slices. They're very tasty!


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Supercritical CO2 does not help visualize ionizing radiation

I tried to build a cloud chamber with supercritical CO2, thinking that ionizing radiation (alpha particles) would cause localized condensation of the CO2 at the point where the fluid is coming out of the supercritical state. It didn't work, unfortunately. I tested this idea with the americium-241 source from a smoke detector. I will continue experimenting with CO2 ionization chambers, and it might be possible to visualize the particles with superheated liquid CO2.

A helpful commenter pointed out that alpha particles will not travel very far in a fluid as dense as liquid CO2, so I will try again with a beta emitter.