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Building a Crystal Radio Out of Household Items

Building a Crystal Radio Out of Household Items

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Published by Moseyspeed

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Published by: Moseyspeed on Feb 20, 2011
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11/25/2012

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Building a crystal radio out of householditems.A piezoelectric earphone
The most difficult part of building a crystal radio is building an efficientearphone that can convert the tiny electrical signals into tiny soundsthat our ears can hear. Our first radio used a telephone handset for anearphone, and that works quite well. But another type of earphone isavailable that fits in the ear so you don't have to hold it. It is alsomore sensitive than the telephone handset.In order to convert very faint electrical signals into sound, we need avery sensitive earphone. The kind of earphones used in transistorradios or CD players will not do. Those are meant to be driven by asignal loud enough to drive a speaker, and are not sensitive at all.We will talk later (in the scientific part of this chapter) about
and what it means. For now, we will just say that asensitive earphone has a very high impedance, which is measured inohms. A speaker has a low impedance, usually about 8 ohms. Asensitive earphone built around an electromagnet (we will build one of these later) might have 2,000 ohms. The telephone handset earphoneis of this type, although it has only a few hundred ohms of impedance,and will not be as loud as a more sensitive device.The crystal earphone we will play with in this section has over a millionohms of impedance, and is very sensitive.A crystal earphone (more properly called a piezoelectric earphone,pronounced pee-zo) is made of a material that changes its shape whenconnected to a source of electricity. Some crystals such as quartz, andRochelle's Salt are piezoelectric. Some ceramics (such as those madewith barium titanate) are also piezoelectric. Our piezoelectric earphoneis made of a disk of brass that is coated with barium titanate ceramic.When electricity is connected to it, the ceramic bends the brass disk,and we can hear the vibrations this causes in the air.To make piezoelectric earphones easier for our readers to find, we nowoffer them in ourcatalog.To demonstrate just how sensitive a crystal earphone is, try thisexperiment: with the earphone in your ear, touch the two wirestogether. You will hear a sharp click as electrons move from one wire
 
to the other. If the earphone came with a jack on the end instead of two bare wires, you will need a piece of metal such as a spoon toconnect the two metal parts of the jack.One detail about such a very sensitive earphone is important inbuilding a crystal radio. A sensitive earphone does not use very muchcurrent to create the sound. Another way of saying this, is that notmuch current is going through the earphone. Our radio needs a certainamount of current to flow through the diode in order to work.When substituting a piezoelectric earphone for an earphone made witha coil of wire, we must provide a way for some current to bypass theearphone. We do this by putting a resistor or a coil in parallel with theearphone (parallel means that the resistor or coil is attached to thesame two places that the earphone wires are attached).The resistor can be anything in the range of 1,000 ohms to 100,000ohms, and can be a piece of graphite out of a pencil, or a couplehundred coils of fine wire around a nail.
A Germanium diode detector
The second part of our radio, after the earphone, is the detector. Adetector is something that picks the audio frequencies out of a radiowave, so they can be heard in the earphone. We will learn more abouthow they work in the scientific part of the chapter later on.Our first detector will be store-bought. Later we will replace it withdetectors we build ourselves out of things we find around the house,like lead pencils, baking soda, razor blades, rocks, all kinds of things.The detector we will use first is a Germanium diode. The diode wewant is called a 1N34A by the people who name diodes. This diode hassome properties that make it particularly suited to our purpose,namely that it works at lower voltage levels than most other commondiodes. Since the voltage in our radio comes from weak little radiowaves, we need all the help we can get.We now carry this diode in ourcatalog, to make it easier to obtain.Radio Shack used to carry them, but they no longer have them in theirstores.
 
We are now ready to build our simplest radio.
A very simple radio with two parts
First let me warn you that this first little radio may not work in yourlocation. It relies on having a very strong local radio station toovercome the limitations of such a simple radio. If it does not workwhere you are, you can either build its cousins that we will discusslater, or you can drive out closer to a local radio station, and try itthere. But because it is so simple, you might try building it just to seewhat you might be able to pick up.If your earphone has a jack on the end, cut it off, so you have twolong wires coming from the earphone. If the wires are twisted aroundeach other, that is OK, since we only need them to be separate at thevery ends.Remove the covering (called insulation) from the ends of the wires toexpose an inch of bare wire. Often you can do this with your fingernail,but a tool called a wire stripper is made for this purpose, and canusually be purchased at the same place you got the earphone or thediode.Wrap one bare wire around one of the diode's wires. Use some tape tokeep it in place. If you know how to solder, you can solder the wirestogether, but it really isn't necessary for now.

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