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Plasma Speaker

Check out this awesome project from a couple of Eastern Washington students.

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If you have ever been within earshot of SparkFun's shipping department during the workday, you have probably heard some pretty decent beats (or beatz?) coming from the area. It is a not-so-well-kept secret that SparkFun employees like to blast tunes during work hours. In fact, it has been shown to increase workplace productivity by 89%* (*in a non-scientific poll conducted by me just seconds ago).

Which brings us the project you see above - this is a plasma speaker created by Brian Hainey and Chris Lewis, engineering students at Eastern Washington University. The speaker above is not your typical sound output device, but rather features a TL494 PWM chip which provides a 45 kHz "carrier" signal onto which audio can be modulated. This transmits audio data that is detected by a microphone in Matlab (you remember Matlab right? Of course you do...), and then processed with Simulink to generate text data.

This is a very cool project that is sure to impress your friends at your next party. Check out Brian's webpage - MuskratMicros - to see more about the plasma speaker, learn about some other awesome projects, or just see a picture of Brian heaterizing a peep (hopefully he read the instructions). Great work Brian and Chris!

Comments 31 comments

  • Ha Ha “FunSparks at SparkFun” Lol :D

  • I built this a few months ago: Instructable - Plasma Speaker - the circuit looks quite similar to the video posted here.
    See my video at the bottom of the page here
    I have since improved the circuit to use a properly driven H-bridge and a resistor in line with the transformer - now the FETs don’t even warm up without a heatsink.
    Now we’re working on using plasma ailerons for roll control on a UAV.

  • Sparkfun should consider carrying the panavise shown in the beginning of the video.
    I bought on due to the interchangeable heads you can purchase for it.

  • Please correct to title (Plama -> Plasma).

  • Interesting to see the plasma speaker is coming around again. I read an article in Poplular Electronics magazine back in the ‘70s on putting together such a play thing. Required a flame, high voltage, some salt, and other items.

  • Check this out, designed at University of Louisville by Paul Faget and Seth Tucker a few months ago.

  • 10/10 for effort, tho if you want to see some real plasma speakers see timetec’s channel on utube :

  • Ah, plasma speakers. Very cool stuff. I built one of these when i was in high school. They’re not as complicated on the inside as they look like they would be.

  • I do not know how to order a Pico Board from you

  • wait a sec, so that blue beam is creating the sound??

    • Correct. The speaker uses changes in the density of the plasma to create vibrations in the medium surrounding the plasma.

  • So how big is the leap form this to making a plasma cutter?..
    - Blasting air with an air compressor past one of the tips and connecting the other tip’s lead to a sheet of mettle?

  • I was just talking about plasma sound yesterday. Any details/schematics out there?

    • I’ve looked into it awhile back. There’s quite a bit on google if you just search around. I never got around to making one though.

      • Take a Look at My blog… I built one of these 2 or 3 years ago and have some good links. blog.thebestjohn.com

  • That is really cool, but is it… Dangerous?

  • For anyone who cannot afford to buy a copy of Matlab, Scilab from scilab.org is a good, free alternative. Scilab is a powerful Numerical Computation program and much of the syntax is even compatible with and can import Matlab files.

  • Plasma speaker made by a university? I’ve seen hobbiest plasma speakers from tv and pc/crt fly-backs since around 2005 :D awesome project in any case :D

    • As a child I read an article on building a “flame speaker” in Popular Electronics - this would have been in the mid 1960’s best I remember. As I recall it involved a gas flame and used a high voltage power supply to ionize the stream. My memory of the details are a little fuzzy after 40 to 50 years, but I sure wanted to build one back in the day - read the ink off of the pages. Anyway, it is far from a new idea, and goes much further back than 2005. I believe someone was even selling a commercial plasma speaker at one time.

    • Not really ‘by a university,’ but by a couple of students at a university.

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