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DNA Sculpture Desk Lamp: Grown Crystal, EL-Wire, Acrylic, Silicone and Aluminum

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Picture of DNA Sculpture Desk Lamp:  Grown Crystal, EL-Wire, Acrylic, Silicone and Aluminum
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So, of course, all of you reading this have thought to yourself at one time or another "I would absolutely love to grow some crystals on el-wire and then encase it in silicone and acrylic."  No? Oh, well maybe it was just me then.  Regardless of whether you have had that thought before or not, I'll show you how I did it.  Compared to many things you could spend weeks doing, it is quite a simple matter.  It is, however, dirty, messy, prone to failure--don't be surprised if you end up growing the crystals on the structure several times over until you settle for one that isn't what you wanted but "oh hell, it'll do".    

This idea initially sprang from a search for crystal based artwork.  After poking around a bit, I came to the conclusion that the height of crystal art at the moment can be summed up as "Crystal on Rock", which I found both surprising and unfortunate.  Crystals are beautiful and there are so many things that can be done with them.  It is my hope that by posting this instructable, it will inspire you to create more interesting and unique crystal based art projects.  I also think that 3d printing a sub-structure would be a good idea, but we'll have to try that later.  

We'll do this in two parts: the primary art piece and the base.  The primary art piece is the interesting bit. Searching for a good base was unproductive, so I built one myself.  I'll walk you through some of that process as well.*

*More musings on the reasons behind this decision can be found in the Troubleshooting & Adjustment section at the end of this instructable.    

Here is a short video of the end result.  


A note on sourcing materials:  I found it very difficult to find many of the items on the list.  To save you time, I will list the sources I found for purchasing the parts as well as alternate vendors.  

Part 1: The DNA Sculpture 

Materials you will need:  
2x Cast Acrylic Tube - 3"OD 1/4 or 1/8" wall thickness, 12" in length. (76.2mm OD 6.32mm or 3.18mm wall 304.8mm in length)  Source: http://www.eplastics.com  Note: Cast acrylic tube is higher quality than extruded but will cost a bit more.  It is worth it.  The striations in the clarity that come from the extrusion process make this less than desirable for the intended use.  
1x Mirror backed Clear Acrylic Disk 3" in Diameter.  Source: http://www.tapplastics.com   Note: Thickness is unimportant.
1x Clear Acrylic Disk 3" in Diameter with two 9mm diameter holes placed roughly 0.5" - 0.75" from center.  Source: http://www.tapplastics.com  
1x Plastic tube cap 3" Diameter.  Source: http://www.tapplastics.com  
9-12x 1.06oz Food Grade Potassium Alum.  Source: Local grocery store or online vendor. Note: Be careful what you are purchasing here, not all potassium alums are alike.  I purchased a 1lb bag from an online source and what it made was mush instead of crystals.  In the end I used McCormick's Alum.  It is expensive, but it also makes very nice crystals and is relatively consistent in its quality.  
42" of 16 gauge Ni-Chrome wire.  Note: Do NOT use aluminum mechanic wire.  It will react with the alum and rust.  
12-16" of 24 gauge Ni-Chrome wire.  Note: You can use aluminum wire in this case, but I recommend against it.  
1x wooden or plastic rod measuring 1.5" in diameter and greater than 12" in length.  Source: Local or online hardware store.  
1x wood, plastic or cardboard block measuring 2" x 4" 
2x EL-Wire, color and thickness of your choosing.  Length ~1ft(304mm).   Source: http://www.thatscoolwire.com http://www.sparkfun.com 
1x 3v EL-Wire Inverter.  Source: same as above.  
1x Y splitter cable for el-wire power.  Source: same as above.  
1x AAA or Coin-Cell Battery pack for El-Wire.  Source: same as above.  
2x AAA batteries (if you go with the AAA battery pack obviously) Source: The bottom of a drawer in your home somewhere or anywhere that sells batteries. 
2x Trial kit of Encapso-K encapsulation silicone.  Source: http://www.smoothon.com 
1x Aluminum (6061) extruded tubing.  3.5"OD x 3"ID x 2" length.  Source: http://www.online-metals.com  (Optional depending on taste and budget) 
1x Aluminum (6061) extruded rod.  3.5"OD x 2" length. Source: Same as above.  (Optional depending on taste and budget)
Several Popsicle sticks or other flat support.   Source: Michael's Arts and Crafts had a big box for cheaps.  
A bit of nylon line or similar.  The smaller and more transparent the better.   Source: Hardware store or fabric store.  
1x Tube of Silicone Sealant  Source: Hardware or Auto store.  Also some grocery stores may have it.  
1x Tube of Acrylic Adhesive Source: http://www.tapplastics.com 
Electrical tape 
Graduated mixing cups Source: http://www.tapplastics.com 
Stirring stick/mixer. 
Large measuring cup 

Tools you will need 
Drill
~1.5" Diameter hole saw
~1/8" drill bit.  
Latex or Nitrile Gloves (optional but useful for not leaving dirty, grimy finger markings all over the acrylic tube)  
Wire cutters or Needle nose pliers 
Small Scissors 
Ruler 
Digital Calipers (optional but useful) 
Level 
Thermometer (optional if you are approaching it more scientifically than I have) 


Safety First!  None of the above are safe for human consumption, so don't.  

 
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alfuth2 years ago
I'm trying to recreate this with some extra twists (fiber optic cable too out outside the tube) but I'm stuck on the growing the crystals part. Its becoming very frustrating. I've used a big back of alum granules from the internet then I went to the store to buy 10 more little spice alum granules (not mccormoicks) and now I'm thinking my best bet is going to be lab grade (found 500g for $11). Because the crystals just arent growing on the structure, theres a layer on the bottom. Any help would be extremely useful
joechacon982 years ago
Very impressive! We had done something somewhat similar (minus the awesome lights!) with copper wire and silver nitrate. I will try your to make your lamp, and use the silver nitrate for the crystals!
Great job!
bpark10003 years ago
A word concerning another problem you may have in time: the laser-cut acrylic plastic can crack due to internal stresses set up by the laser-cutting process. Any cutting process heats (and melts) the surface at the cuts. These surfaces cool and try to shrink, but are braced by the bulk of the unheated material. They remain in tension, and cracks can start from imperfections over time.

You can see these stresses by illuminating the pieces with polarized light and viewing through another polarizer. Stressed areas will pass light; the rest will be dark.

The solution is to anneal out these stresses. You take the parts (remove the protective paper) after fabrication and put them in an oven. They are heated to a temperature that allows stress to relieve, but not enough to warp (probably about 180 degrees F), hold at that temperature until the bulk is at that temperature, then cool slowly so that essentially the entire bulk cools together. This will require at least 12 hours. The large gear will be the item you must watch carefully for warping. Annealing can be done more slowly at lower temperatures. The quality of the anneal can be checked with the polarizer set.
LucidMovement (author)  bpark10002 years ago
Thank you for the wonderful information!! This is really good stuff! I just started to notice these cracks and I was wondering what was causing them since they didn't form in areas that would experience stress. Thank you for clearing that up for me and everyone else viewing this! I hope you don't mind, but I've included the information you posted into the instructable.
WOW! You should enter in the teacher contest... ;)
LucidMovement (author)  bakedicecream3 years ago
Hehe, thanks. Though I think I'll leave that one for the actual teachers out there. :) They don't get enough love as is.
thecapt3 years ago
Very cool. Well structured 'able, plus it was entertaining to read. It was obvious you had time to devote to writing out each step and it was well spent. I'm curious if you did the same with RGB LED strings if you could actually mimic a DNA strand or at least sync your base string with the encapsulated string as the base appears to wash out the EL wire a bit.

Good luck in you job hunting. If nothing else, maybe you can sell a few of these to some high end boutiques, maybe even turn them into a 'smoking accessory' and tap that market - heard a few of those sold in the thousands...
LucidMovement (author)  thecapt3 years ago
Hehe, thank you! Yeah, I had thought about the RGB LED strands, it is a good idea but it complicates the process a bit since supplying it with power becomes a bit more difficult than the current process. I think it is totally doable and I have considered it, but it hasn't gone much further. As for washing out the EL-wire. I think that is likely due to the batteries being low when I was taking the photos and videos. Initially it was much brighter. Though, I suspect I may skip the el-wire in future versions. I've had two strands fail on me so far and I've yet to track down the failure point and the difference between on and off is noticeable, but only if you know what you are looking for.
captb3 years ago
This is great stuff guy, check out my friends art work featuring crystals... http://www.twentytwelvenataraja.com/Gallery-%20Main.htm ...Hope you enjy! :)
LucidMovement (author)  captb3 years ago
Thank you for the kind words and the link. Your friend's artwork is really impressive. Those are wonderful paintings.
dorght3 years ago
Going to make it into the Left-handed DNA hall of fame (http://www.fred.net/tds/leftdna/). DNA is usually a right-handed helix.
xiambam dorght3 years ago
Dorght, I was thinking that as well. Either way, it's fantastic. Brilliant work :)
LucidMovement (author)  dorght3 years ago
Fascinating, I was completely unaware that it had a preference, though I suppose that shouldn't surprise me. Thanks for the info!
MandingaRes3 years ago
Excelente!!
Sin dudas una escultura con mucha ciencia..
Voy a tratar de reproducirla. Es probable que cambie algunos materiales, pero intentaré que quede lo más parecida posible.
Mis felicitaciones por tamaño trabajo!
Ah! Seguramente puedas desarrollar este y otros trabajos para poder comercializar y asi pagar tus cuentas y hasta puedas seguir siendo un artista independiente para hacer lo que te gusta y vivir de ello.
Te deseo felices fiestas y un próximo año lleno de bendiciones y fortuna.
LucidMovement (author)  MandingaRes3 years ago
Thank you!! I would love to see the results when you finish it! I am hoping I can, this is kind of my first attempt at doing so. We'll see. Happy holidays to you as well!
FYI, heating distilled water can be a bit dangerous. It can become super heated without boiling, and when you stick a spoon in it, it will instantly boil and explode all over, possible causing burns. If you are stirring the entire time though, it shouldn't be a problem and I think having the alum in the water will prevent it from doing this as well.

Nice looking lamp by the way! I like the idea of using crystals to shape the DNA.
Wow! I had never heard of this. Absolutely fascinating though. Thanks for the info!
provod3 years ago
Cool lamp, you should try to do so.
hammer98763 years ago
Congratulations on being featured. Great looking sculpture. I hope it looks good on your resume.
LucidMovement (author) 3 years ago
Thank you everyone for the kind comments. I am glad people seem to like the project.
Autocad inventor? 2010?
LucidMovement (author)  MatthewEnderle3 years ago
Oh, oops, I should clarify.

Autodesk Inventor 2012. I was using the 30 day trial version that changed over to the student/unemployed version that they offer through their education community. http://students.autodesk.com/

I have Autodesk 2012 also, but I don't like one of the menus and the new rendering process, however I got a new videocard so it might run smoother. I currently run Autodesk Inventor 2011 Pro. You can even see some of my "widgets" I made on my instructables page. I don't even have the more sophisticated ones on there like my new computer case I'm building in a HS shop class, Since I'm a junior on my last shop class, I'll leave with a BANG!
I have some pictures of the 3D Rendering in ACAD. My favorite part is that you can either draw it in 2d or 3d and convert between them. I'd rather make an object then make steps, even if I have to redo it over for them, like in my tutorials I've done it at least twice before I record so it free-sails nicely. Tell me what you think of my project. I was actually going to make your lamp, but i'm a little low on money right this moment...
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LucidMovement (author)  MatthewEnderle3 years ago
Nice looking stuff. Personally I am rather impressed with Inventor as a whole. This is my first real attempt at making something using it. I was impressed at how intelligent it was overall.

On your project, it looks nice. Very stylish for a computer case. Good work.
ChrysN3 years ago
Gorgeous lamp, it looks amazing!
super awesome!!!!!
mikeasaurus3 years ago
I love the way this looks, nice job!