Thursday, December 27, 2007

Reuse: Old PC Parts for Art and Education

I am cleaning out my office in preparation of relocating it to the basement so our oldest can have her own bedroom. In the process, I realized I have accumulated a large cache of defunct computer hardware. I had often wondered about the mileage I would get converting old simms to key chains, that sort of thing. Never did I imagine the more organic possibilities till I started googling and found this great post on techblog.

Well, my mind got working and I started tearing things apart for pieces parts. I had read a year or so ago about a guy taking apart old Hard Disks to harvest the raw materials. Aluminum casings and machined parts can be recycled. There's a minor amount of copper in the read/write arm coil. And there are some butt-whoopin' rare earth magnets - the kind that you DON'T want your fingers to accidentally come between.

The later turned out to be the most entertaining find so far. This on the heals of getting a 140 piece kit of Magnetix for my oldest. She loves them and I love playing with them with her. There are tons of fun things you can make. I made one half of an alternating field magnetic impulse rotor with some parts on the coffee table. She thought that was pretty cool, as did I... so we bought another $50 of parts today while we were at the store. Should be able to make the whole 360 degree rotor. Set up properly, a little nudge pushes two like poles into opposition. As the rotor arm pushes into the opposing like-pole field, it is building potential kinetic energy while moving. As it crests the resistance of the fixed like pole magnet in the outer array, the opposing like pole field gives the rotor arm a little push.

At the same time, an oppositely poled magnet is positioned just out of reach of the previous like poled magnet and is attracting the arms magnet towards it. The speed boost is enough to hurl the arm past the oppositely poled magnet towards the next like polled resistance field. This process repeats until the arm moves out of the field of the fixed magnets surrounding the orbit of the arm. In theory, with a full 360 array, the rotor arm would be pushed and pulled around in a circle forever... provided there is very little work being done other than pivoting about a fulcrum. And, with ad-hoc positioning and nothing to really hold things in place, it's highly likely the experiment would wind down or stall after a few rotations.

Anyway, that aside, I thought - yeah - some really really strong magnets mounted on screw tunable fixtures would make this a more finely controlled experiment - possibly even come close to being able to generate a little power. So, I started tearing the magnets out of my stack of old disks. The unexpected thing was just how fun it is to play with them. I created a buffalo, a sea horse, and the last (best), a camel - readily identified as such by a 3 year old, so I feel that's a good measure of the verisimilitude I achieved with metal parts.

It occurred to me that something like this might make attractive desk top art. It just takes an eye for natural organic patterns - like picking out shapes in fluffy white clouds on a summers day. Pondering the other innards of the HD's, I thought the control arms looked an awful lot like birds heads. I might make a loon or a peacock out of non magnetic parts next. My official excuse, though, is the pile of parts I'm collecting will be great for art as well as mechanical engineering lessons for the kids as they get older. I even pulled the motors from the HDs, which means we can have some 7200 RPM fun at some point too. :-)

No comments: