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Archive for the ‘Optics’ Category

Testing the Android Smartphone Endoscope.

We recently added a new Smartphone optics product to our offerings: A 2m Endoscope that plugs right into the Android’s Micro-USB port!



Making Spectra (Rainbows) with Prisms. A primer.

Prisms! We love ourselves some prisms!


Whether they are glass, acrylic, water filled, or even hollow prisms are a great way to bend light and have fun doing it.

Of course one of the more fun aspects of prisms is using them to make rainbows (or spectrum to be scientific). Some of these prisms it is easy – just put the prism in a sunny window and it will project random rainbows around the room. But for a more scientific appearance of spectra you have to use a proper prism (typically equilateral). Trouble is, it is not as easy to do as making random rainbows with water prisms. Many folks have bought prisms as came to us saying “they didn’t work”. Which is kind of like saying a ball is broken because gravity didn’t somehow pull it to the ground. It just doesn’t work that way. That being said making spectra with a prism is not as easy as dropping a ball. Here are some critical tips for making a proper spectrum with your prism.

  1. Darken the room

The biggest issue with making spectra is that they can get washed out by other light, or be so feeble to be unseeable. So darken the room as best as your can. Turn out the lights, draw the curtains, whatever makes the room darker. The contrast will make the spectra look better.

2. Make a Slit lamp.

OK, so you might have noticed something about that Light Crystal packaging up above. Let’s have another look:


You may notice the pretty spray of colors on the right, but look at the leftof the crystal.  You might notice there is a column of light entering the prism. Note that it is almost a beam, not an entire wall of light from a bulb or sunlight. This is important:

If you try to make spectra with a bulb, flashlight or sunlight, odds are you won’t get very good results. The wash of light entering the crystal will result in a wash of light coming out of the crystal. It won’t be as good as making your own slit lamp.

How do you make a slit lamp? Well, get yourself a powerful flashlight (not too powerful…some high-power models out there can overwhelm the black construction paper you will be using) and some black construction paper. Then using the diameter of the front of the flashlight as a guide, cut out this shape from the construction paper:

Slit Light Cover

You are making a circle with a slit in it to cover the front of your flashlight, so cut this circle out a little larger than the front of the flashlight. You can make multiple versions with slightly larger or smaller slits so you can see what works best (flashlight deisgns and room darkness conditions may produce differing results).

3. Shine on, you crazy spectrum maker

With your darkened room, prism in position, and slit-lamp adjusted flashlight, aim the beam of light at the side of the prism. Typically, this means hitting the side with the beam slightly below one of the edges. The angle you aim at the side will affect where the spectra  appears. Aim from on high and your spectrum will appear on the floor, aim from below and you  could have it on the ceiling. Which reminds us:

4. Have a good target wall/ceiling/paper

If you have a wall painted red, and project a spectrum on to it, guess what? A good portion of the colors won’t show up very well. So always aim for a white wall or ceiling, or at least put down some white paper to get the best spectra.

Enjoy the colors!


Smartphone Clip on Macro and Fisheye Lenses in action!

We recently added another Smartphone clip-on lens to our offerings. This is similar to our Universal Smartphone Microscope but the lenses are not s microscope system but conventional camera-type lenses. We thought we would put this system to the test.

First up let’s look at the system: It s a simple clip-on soft-jaw clamp similar to the Smartphone Microscope. It should with all smartphones and even most pads:

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Testing out the Carson HookUpz IS-100 Universal Smartphone Optics Adapter

Carson Optics has introduced a new product to the world of Smartphones. The HookUpz Universal Smartphone Optics adapter. This is a device that hopes to make the now nearly ubiquitous Smartphones even more useful to hobby and industry as it is supposed to allow you to attach almost any Smartphone to almost any optical system (microscope, binocular, telescope).


But that brings the question: Does it work? We’ll we spent some time fiddling with one to find out!


Cleaning Optics – How to do it.

So in our previous entry we talked about what not to do when cleaning sensitive optics such as telescope lenses and binoculars. Now it is time for a better explanation of how to properly clean those optical lenses. Note that everything mentioned here can be applied to binocular lenses, telescope lenses, and even camera lenses.

Before we discuss specific cleaning methods let me state the first rule of lens cleaning, similar to Hypocratic Oath:


If your lenses are not dirty, don’t clean them for the sake of cleaning them.  If a tiny smudge is on your lens but isn’t showing any effect on viewing, just let it be. All too many lenses have been damaged or destroyed by unneeded cleaning.  So consider carefully before starting the cleaning process.

We are going to discuss two methods of cleaning optics: using a cleaner and lens tissue and using a Lens Cleaning Pen. Let’s start with the latter.

Method 1: Lens Cleaning Pen

Lens cleaning pens are sold under a variety of names but they mostly have the same features: A soft dusting brush and a flat cleaning end. The first thing you will do is brush the lens gently with the brush end.



Cleaning Optics, what not to do: Telescopes & Binoculars

So say you have a nice pair of binoculars or a good refracting telescope (or spotting scope). One day you are about to use it and you discover some kind of smear 102on the front lens.  Perhaps it was a droplet of water from the day you were viewing and a small rainstorm brewed up? Doesn’t matter, you need to clean that lens or otherwise your view will be very diminished. So you grab a tissue from the bathroom and some window cleaner and….


OK, let’s talk about glass and the things we put on it to see better. Glass is a fairly hard material but it can be scratched, but a greater concern for your nice binoculars is the coatings on the lenses. You might notice that purple/green/blue coloring in the reflection if you look at the lenses at an angle. These coating are very important to the binocular/telescope’s optical quality and you cannot just use anything to clean them.



United Scientific Intermediate Spectrometer

Spectrometers are a staple product of high school and University Physics labs. Used for testing and measuring the refraction of light, they are crucial for a lot of optics programs. Among one of the better class of instruments for this purpose is the United Scientific Intermediate Spectrometer



Laser Optics Demonstrator

There are a fair number of Laser Optics kits for classrooms on the market, but most of them are design for only  a few purposes in demonstrating the properties of optics, lasers, and the like. The United Scientific Laser Optics Demonstrator works as a comprehensive optical demonstration system.

2474large The core of the Demonstrator is a built-in He-Ne (Helium-Neon) laser. Unlike budget systems that may use a LED Laser (which can produce square shaped target dots). In addition the set includes a deflection system, ray optics board, and 30 optical quality glass components on carriers, three magnetic base supports and mechanical stage for wave optics.

The He-Ne laser is mounted horizontally in the demonstrator and the beam is diverted up towards the five mirrors. Each of these mirrors is only partially aluminized  so that a fraction of the beam is deflected onto the white optics board to create a ray bundle. 2474a

On the white board is a 360 degree graduated table for measurement.  The table has a knob on the back of the board so that it can be rotated. In the dead center of the table is a mount where the various glass optical components can be mounted – Demonstration lenes (convex, concave) prisms, mirrors and other optical instruments.  Fiber optics are also included.

In addition to these optical ray systems the Laser Optics Demonstrator can be used for several light wave experiments. The base holds the various magnetic base supports that are included with the demonstrator. These components include lenses, polarizers, an air wedge, bi-prism, interference apertures, obstacles. Many interferenc2474be  and diffraction experiments can be performed with these components.  The laser is bright enough that most experiments can be held in a bright room, but extended patterns or diffractions may require darkening.

The entire Laser Optics Demonstrator comes in a metal carrying case that measures 15″ x 15″ x 13″.

Want to buy the Laser Optics Demonstrator?

Want to buy other Advanced Physics Classroom Equipment?



The odder features of telescopes, or what does *that* do?

In theory, telescopes have fairly straightforward designs, and even if they do not (such as with equatorial mounts) the instructions usually have some helpful information on how to use it. But over the years we have noticed that there are some features to telescopes that the instruction manual does not cover very well.

There is actually a bit of a historical reason for this. Telescope manufacture tends to be a bit imitative. So when one country tries to start up an industry it find the best thing to do is imitate the last manufacturer’s product. This means that features that aren’t really used much any more are continued, sometimes just for their own sake. But that does not mean they are useless!

1) Why does this telescope have two caps and openings?

AperturereduceMany telescopes, usually refractors, may have a double cap system on the cover for the lens. One cap comes off to reveal a small opening, while removing the entire cap exposes the entire lens for astronomical viewing.

So why this double system? Two reasons: the smaller opening can act as a “budget moon filter” by letting in less light from bright objects. The reduced aperture is handy for viewing the Moon as it can be very bright – almost painful to view! Reducing the aperture can also be handy in the telescope gets used for terrestrial viewing.

The other reason is probably not official. Sometimes lens caps can get stuck on the telescope tube, and by removing the small cap you can stick a finger into the cap and get a better grip on the cap.

2) What are those knobs on the outside of my reflector near the opening for?

secondaryvaneoutsideSo you are looking through the eyepiece on your reflecting telescope and you notice this shiny, attractive thumbscrew next to your focuser. Its so tempting! What it is for?

The answer is that it holds the vanes that hold your reflecting telescope’s secondary mirror in place. secondaryvaneinsideit is not a good idea to turn them or twist them as it may mess up the alignment of your secondary mirror.





3) What does ‘rich field’ mean when talking about a telescope?

This is a term that gets tossed around when discussing telescopes and the answer is fairly simple: As you increase the magnification of a telescope (how much it makes thing bigger) you decrease the field-of-view (how much you see).  Since magnification is determined by the focal length of the telescope’s mirror or lens divided by the focal length of the eyepiece you can see how the design of the telescope comes into play when determining magnification and field of view.

009Well, with Rich-Field telescopes the focal length of the telescope is kept deliberately short to keep magnifications low, but field of view high.  This usually means a short barrel telescope. Rich-Field telescopes may not be able to crank up high magnification but they give nice wide fields of view. Wide fields of view means it is easier to find objects in the night sky and is important for viewing the larger Deep Sky Objects (such as the Andromeda Galaxy)

Looking to buy telescopes?





Glow Crazy Pattern Painter

Glow Crazy has been a nifty product we’ve carried for several years. It is a simple concept where kids can paint with light on a glowing canvas that fades over time.  The Glow Crazy Distance Doodler and the Doodle Dome have been popular products in this line. Now another entry has come into the product line – the Glow Crazy Pattern Painter

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