Uranium Lamp!

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About: I like to make things

It's been quite a while since I've last created an Instructable. But recently I built something that made me want to come out of retirement. Then I noticed an indoor lighting contest and I knew the planets had aligned. So here we go.

I ran across uranium glass somewhere along the lines of my travels. It fascinated me, and I had to have some. My tastes are eclectic. I like things with bells and whistles. I like things with gears and pulleys, and electronic doodads, and fire, and flashing lights. And I like things that glow. Uranium glass glows under a UV light. I will say "glow," because it is easier to type, but really what we are demonstrating here is fluorescence. Knowing the difference is not necessary for this Instructable, but it is worth learning, if for no other reason than correcting people at parties. They'll love it!

In this Instructable, we will be constructing a lamp that takes advantage of the fluorescent properties of uranium to light a room indirectly. Instead of the LEDs lighting up the room, the light from the LEDs will strike uranium atoms within the glass and cause those atoms to emit light of a completely different wavelength. This, is our Uranium Lamp!

Full Disclosure: I already built this. I do not have pictures of the process as I put it together. You will notice that all of the pictures are taken after the fact. Normally that would disqualify a project for me as an option for an Instructable. I'm just not really a fan of those. However, this build is so simple, and the concept so readily and necessarily adaptable to your individual parts, that I believe it will not suffer from a lack of step by step images. In other words, should you decide to recreate this Instructable, your finished product will almost certainly end up looking and perhaps operating differently enough, that more detailed pictures of my actual process would be of limited benefit. This will make more sense as we begin to assemble our lamp.

But first, a bit of history.

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Step 1: Back in the Day

Uranium glass (also known as depression glass, or vaseline glass--among other names) is glass with small amounts of uranium incorporated into it, which gives it a distinctive color (hence the name, vaseline glass), as well as a very distinctive greenish glow when ultraviolet light is applied to it. It has been known to be in use since the year 79. So apart from sanitation, agriculture, education, roads, bridges, and the aqueducts, the Romans also gave us uranium glass. But other than that, what have the Romans ever done for us?

There are quite a few folks out there who collect this stuff and it is worth reading a little bit more about it. If you are curious, here are a couple of links that I found particularly interesting. There is a bit of history, as well as information about how to find it and safety concerns, in case you worry about having uranium just laying around the house. This one is from CollectorsWeekly.com, and this one is from Oak Ridge Associated Universities.

The full history and usage of uranium glass is way beyond the scope of this Instructable. We don't really need it anyway to make it work, and building this thing is what we are here to do, so we will move on.

Step 2: Let Your Light Shine

To find uranium glass, you will need a source of UV light. UV flashlights are cheap on Amazon and can also be found at some hardware stores or even pet stores, for finding urine stains. Any of these will work. Some blue LEDs shift enough into the UV spectrum to make some glass glow. I have had limited success with this method, though, as some types of glass will glow under the blue LEDs and some will not. All of it glows under UV. For my money I think a UV light is worth it, but if you already have a blue LED laying around It could be worth a shot. But your mileage may vary.

I actually took a cheap keychain LED flashlight and replaced the white LED with a UV one. I ordered some UV LEDs from Amazon. Here is a link (affiliate link-full disclosure) to the ones I bought, but there are many sources. It is surprisingly easy to remove the stock LED and pop in an ultraviolet. Mine didn't even require soldering. Many of them are just held in with friction. I have converted different types of these mini flashlights with great success. They're cheap, small, and you can leave one in your car in case you happen to drive by an antique mall.

So grab your light and start shining it around antique and thrift stores, or check ebay, or any number of other options, and get yourself some uranium glass in whatever shape you find interesting. They made this stuff into pretty much anything you can think of that can be made of glass: plates, drinking glasses, mugs, vases, figurines, ashtrays, etc.. I found this owl at an antique store for somewhere in the neighborhood of $15. It's roughly 4 inches tall and I thought it would look cool in my living room. Only after obsessively shining my UV light on it for days and days, I realized it emitted enough light to make an interesting lamp.

Once you have found something you find interesting, we will be ready to start gathering together the rest. You'll see what I mean in the next step.

Step 3: The Other Pieces

Once you have a piece of uranium glass, you will need to find or make something that can be used as a stand. I found a wooden box that my mom got me decades ago on a trip to Minnesota. It is a good size for containing the electronics. I also think the size is right for this particular figurine. For yours, find something that fits the size of your object, your electronics, and your own particular aesthetics.

Apart from a stand of some sort, you will need a source of UV light. If you have purchased loose LEDs to convert some flashlights for finding uranium glass, you can now use some of those for this aspect of the project. If you are using an ultraviolet flashlight, you will most likely need to find an alternate source of UV light (unless you want to mount that into something). Anyway, buy some loose ones, or salvage some lights from another product. This is what I did. The light panel I am using came from a fingernail polish curing machine. In retrospect, I would have gone a different way, but I'll talk about that in the next step.

So let's move on to the next step so I can talk about it.

Step 4: What I Did (And How You Can Do It Better)

So what I did was to mark out on the box exactly where I wanted the figurine to sit. I turned Minnesotta over and made that the bottom. (I hereby apologize to the entire state of Minnesota.) I then used some needle files to sculpt the wood into the exact shape of the bottom of the figurine. I glued a piece of plexiglass to the underside of where the owl will sit, to hold it up. Next, I carved out a spot for the power supply jack and mounted the UV panel into the bottom. I used the original circuit board for the UV light panel in order to keep it simple.

It works. It really does, but I had to do some tweaking. And having done a bit of tweaking, and a bit of thinking, I have come up with some ways to improve it. The more astute among you will notice that I completely glossed over the build details, there is no circuit board in any of the pictures, and there is some black permanent marker on the plexiglass. Well, the circuit board was relieved of duty rather quickly for reasons I will explain. I glossed over the construction because I really don't want you to build it the way I did. And the permanent marker was an attempt to fix a problem that you hopefully won't need to deal with. So here is how you can build your own uranium lamp, but better and perhaps even easier than I did.

First off, I really didn't need to sculpt the exact shape of my owl's base. I could have just drilled a hole in the top and set the figurine over that. Not only would that have been quicker and easier, but In retrospect, it would have looked better. With the entire base exposed to the LEDs, the base becomes too bright compared to the body of the owl. Now you know why there is permanent marker on the bottom of the plexiglass. I was trying to block out a bit of the light from the LED panel and focus it on the body of the owl. I was hoping for a nice even glow. This did not work, and you will see a 3D printed part that I placed over the LED panel for that purpose.

The point is, you don't need an LED panel with 30-something LEDs on it like mine. It is WAY too bright. In all honesty, I bet you could use a single UV LED for a small figurine like this owl, and be fine. If your piece is bigger, perhaps you will need more, and maybe you want it brighter. But you will only need a few for all but the very largest of uranium glass pieces.

Step 5: What Else I Did Wrong

Oh yes, the circuit board. For some reason, I decided to use the original circuit that came with the fingernail curing light. It had a DC barrel connector in it so I thought that would add a touch of refinement to it. Well I found out very quickly that the light would not stay on. I thought it was broken at first, but it turns out the fingernail curing light had a built in timer that was the proper length of time to cure the resin used in some fingernail polishes. Great for timing the curing of resin. Bad for a lamp that I want to turn on and off when I want it to. Well, long story short, I removed the circuit board, desoldered the DC jack from the board and resoldered it directly to the panel. I glued it back into place and we're off to the races. The LED panel has resistors soldered to the board so a basic 12v DC power supply lights it up just fine.

But again, don't do it this way. There is no need to go through all of this unless you already have an ultraviolet LED panel from something and desperately want to use it. UV LEDs are cheap on Amazon and ebay and most of them come with the resistors you need. You can run these off a battery for who knows how many days at a time, or run a low power DC source to it with a wall wart. There are countless Instructables describing how to use LEDs in your projects, so I will not go into the specifics in this one.

Step 6: That's It?

So you saw how I did it. You have seen how I changed it from its original design. You have also been privy to the problems I have run into and the solutions I recommend. So get yourself a UV light, hit up some antique stores, and let your uranium light shine!

Oh, and when you're done, put some little rubber feet on the bottom of your stand. After all, we are not barbarians!

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