Jars of Glowing Spirits




Introduction: Jars of Glowing Spirits

About: A hubby and wife duo from Toronto who enjoy exploring and creating. Sparked by interests in food, technology, cultures and the 'good life', this teacher and evil genius team love to share their ideas with th...

Glowing spirits aside, this project can be described in a single line: "A 9-volt battery powering a pulsating circuit that drives a UV LED to illuminate fluorescent-dyed water in a spray-painted mason jar."

Circuit components:
• 3cm x 7cm double-sided blank PCB [USD12 for 20pcs from eBay]
• 0.5W 30000mcd 8mm 5-chip straw hat UV LED [USD34 for 50pcs from eBay]
• Resistors 2.2kΩ 1/4W, 4.1Ω 1/4W, 100Ω 1/2W
• Capacitor 1.5mF 10V
• BC337 transistor
• 555-timer IC
• DIP8 IC socket
• N/O reed switch
• Strong rare-earth magnet
• 9V battery connector
• 9V battery
• Wires & soldering kit

Other materials:
• Wildfire’s Luminescent Water Dyes [USD28 for 5 0.2oz bottles from Blacklight.com]
• Frosted glass spray [from Home Depot]
• Gold spray paint [from Home Depot]
• Wide-mouth mason jar with 3-1/8" opening
• Ziploc freezer bag

With that long parts list, what you end up with is an innocent looking jar filled with a coloured liquid. No circuit or battery is visible since the liquid filling all the way to the top, along with the frosted glass coating, appear as opaque and completely hide the illuminating assembly. Since the jar is sealed, the on/off switch is our small rare-earth magnet, which you place on the metallic lid to get the spirits glowing. The fluorescing colour differs from the natural colour of the dyed water, so a beautiful gradient is formed when the jars glow.

I have yet to run out of battery on any of these. According to the math, a 9V battery would last about 5 hours, and it can be easily replaced. You can complete one of these jars in a day or two. However, some parts are easier purchased in bulk, so you may as well build a big family with all the different colours ;)

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Step 1: Spray Painting

Coat the outside of the glass part of each mason jar with the frosted glass spray. Wait for it to dry and apply at least another layer to ensure the surface is fully covered.

Fully cover the lids and the outside of the jar bottoms with the gold spray paint. Lightly spray patches of gold scattered around other glass surfaces as well. The gold-patches-on-frosted-glass effect makes the jars look great in daylight.

Let the jars sit for at least a day before any contact with water. You may spend the rest of the day building the circuit ;)

Step 2: Build Circuit

This is by far the most difficult step where you will build the heart of the glowing spirits. It is recommended that you try out the circuit on a breadboard if possible.

The circuit basically relies on the 555-timer to generate a periodic heartbeat, along with the BC337 transistor, control the amount of current flowing through the UV LED. The UV LED in turn goes from half brightness to full brightness, and then back to half brightness again, and so on. The resistors and capacitor values are chosen more or less by trial and error to provide the frequency and brightness that make the jars comfortable for viewing.

The layout of the circuit is important because it must be compact enough to be hidden in the mouth of the mason jars. The picture showing the bottom traces is drawn as if you are looking through the PCB from the top. When you actually make the traces at the bottom of the PCB, they will be inverted from the drawing, as shown in the last picture. Note that all circuit components are on one side of the PCB, except for the reed switch, which is on the same side with the traces.

The easiest way for me is to solder in all the components you see in the Top view, then flip the PCB over to form the traces by bridging adjacent solder points with solder. The second part may take some practice if you haven't done it before, but it will become much easier once you get used to it. Lastly, attach the reed switch at the back, and solder in the 9V battery connector.

At some point you will need to trim the PCB as shown in the pictures, so it will fit in the mouth of the mason jar. Normal scissors will do, no special tools needed. You can do this now or later.

Step 3: Test Circuit

Take a rare-earth magnet and move it near the reed switch to turn on the circuit. The UV LED should turn on immediately, and start pulsing at a soothing frequency. The effect may be more noticeable with the lights off. If there is no pulsating effect, check the circuit connections.

If everything goes well, start mass producing the assembly for the number of jars you plan to make. If you plan on making a big family of jars, it may be worthwhile to adopt a pattern transfer + etching-based technique to fabricate custom PCBs.

Whichever way you create these circuits, make sure you test each one before proceeding.

Step 4: Fluorescence Water

The water dyes are not toxic, but they do stain, so make sure they don't get onto your white surfaces!

Fill a mason jar with water almost all the way to the top as shown. Pick a colour of dye and put in 10 drops regardless of the size of your mason jar. When illuminated with UV light, the colour of fluorescence is not the same colour as what you see in daylight. For example, the jar that appears white in the photo will fluoresce in blue! So read the label to pick your colour.

Step 5: Circuit in the Jar

Cut out a piece from the Ziploc freezer bag larger enough to cover the mason jar opening plus some extra on each side.

Trim your PCB such that the assembly fits inside the opening as shown, with the UV LED facing downward and reed switch upward, the trimmed PCB and 9V battery side-by-side with each other.

Press down such that the assembly is fully inside the mouth of the jar. Make sure there is still plenty of extra plastic sheet on each side, protecting the circuit from the overflowing water.

Step 6: Seal and Done!

Place the lid on top without pinching the wires. Ensure that the lid presses on the plastic sheet all around and that there is extra plastic everywhere along the edge. Screw the lid down, then use a knife to cut any extra plastic sheet sticking out.

Place the rare-earth magnet on the lid directly above the reed switch and watch the spirits glow!

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    34 Discussions


    1 year ago

    Hmm, this would work maybe better with glow in the UV and dark powder. Powder that attached to glue may work too.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    where did you guys get the miniature mason jars (in the picture at the very top of the page)?


    6 years ago

    I have had great fun using Prestone anti freeze and gelatin in a few of my projects the marker ink as mentioned works well in small quantities too.
    I have also used hand sanitizer as a base
    I'm thinking of using glow powder and setting the flash rate to very slow
    Even one flash a minute would be quite bright in the after glow
    Thanks so much for a great project


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I'm about to build those awesome looking jars. I have set up a simulation but the NE555 does not oscillate. How is the capacitor initially charged? It is only connected to the OUT of the NE555 which is LOW. What is my mistake here?

    Finding Pie
    Finding Pie

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Ahh... it's been a while since I designed this circuit, and I didn't get a chance to run a simulation. I will try my best to explain this :)

    First of all, this circuit is based on a configuration similar to the "Minimum Component Astable" described in Section 4.2 of http://www.doctronics.co.uk/555.htm

    According to the frequency formula for this circuit:

    frequency = 0.72 / (2.2kΩ x 1.5 mF) = 0.22Hz

    At this low frequency, we can cheap out on the 10nF resistor on pin 5, and end up with our "Very Minimum Component Astable" configuration.

    Here is a very nice video that explains how a similarly configured 555-timer works:

    A cool animation for that circuit:

    And lastly, the pinouts for your reference:

    Hope that helps, and feel free to post your simulated circuit so I can have a look. I am obviously not an expert building circuits, with my pen-and-paper schematics and solder-formed traces, so please let me know if you guys have any suggestions for the circuit.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    First - really cool idea. The 555 is a pretty simple circuit, but this is a very clever thing to do with it. Love the reed switch, too.

    Now, while I'm waiting for my components to arrive, I've SPICE'd the circuit, but I'm not getting any oscillation either.

    As far I can tell, if we ignore the BJT amplifier portion of the circuit, the only way this differs from a generic 555 circuit is that there are no resistors between pins 7+8 and 6+7. I tried inserting resistors there in simulation, but to no avail.

    Other than that, the only other thing that occurs to me is that the voltage drop across a UV LED is NOT your standard .7-.8V. .....but even so....the simulation should be showing some oscillation on pin 3.


    Attached is my simulated circuits, your design and a generic 555, both with voltage plots of pin 3.

    Finding Pie
    Finding Pie

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for posting the sim results. I agree with you that all the components here are pretty standard, except for the UV LED, which seems to have a rather high forward voltage. I have attached the specs for the UV LED.

    I also posted a similar circuit from 555-timer-circuits.com, which uses a standard LED and gives much higher frequency pulses. I wonder if you will get oscillations in the sim with the components that they use.



    6 years ago on Introduction

    Very Cool!
    Have you tested (or calculated) how long the battery will last?

    Finding Pie
    Finding Pie

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    According to the calculations, 5-6 hours. We used them for decor at our wedding and left them on for > 4 hours, the battery still hasn't run out. So experimental results: at least 4+ hours with the $1 battery shown in the pictures.

    A larger capacity battery will of course last a few hours longer too.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    My wedding is in 23 days. Any way I can buy them off you? I've already built a photobooth and EL wire dance project. I just don't have time to take on any more projects due to lack of time. http://wddng.net if you're curious about the projects.


    Finding Pie
    Finding Pie

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Wow looks like you got many projects going on. Great work on the photo booth! Unfortunately we gave out many of these after our wedding and would like to keep the rest for ourselves. Sorry.

    And congrats on the upcoming wedding!


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Nice instructable! I like the use of the reed switch and magnet to keep the jars sealed.

    One other source of fluorescent dye is to crack open a highlighter pen, pull out the felt piece containing the ink and soak it in water for a while. Most UV LEDs will get it fluorescing. You might not be able to find as wide a variety of colors than buying the concentrated dyes, but it's a lot cheaper!