About the Bell Jar


Editor & Publisher: Steve Hansen

Print Journal:

ISSN 1071-4219

Mailing Address: PO Box 456, 34 Meadowbrook Lane, Owl's Head, ME 04854 USA

Access to moderately good vacuum apparatus can open up a whole new dimension to the amateur. However, practical information has not been easy to come by.

In the 1950s and 1960s there was some level of discourse on simple simple vacuum apparatus. For those who remember, two good examples were C.L. Stong's Amateur Scientist column in Scientific American magazine and the amateur oriented pumps, kits and plans once offered by the firm of Morris & Lee of Buffalo, NY. Between the two, an impressive array of apparatus emerged from the efforts of ambitious basement experimenters. There were a variety of gas lasers, x-ray tubes, potential drop accelerators, mass spectrometers, simple & compound electron microscopes and high altitude chambers, to name a few. All of these were cobbled together with converted refrigeration compressors, single stage diffusion pumps, copper & glass tubing, wax and a lot of ingenuity. The staying power of these endeavors is evidenced by the continued recycling of plans (often in the form of poor imitations) for a number of the vacuum related projects in Stong's columns.

In the intervening years there has been an almost complete lapse in the availability of up-to-date information on vacuum technique and apparatus specifically targeted toward the amateur, educator, or professional who likes to tinker. the Bell Jar was created at the start of 1992 to bring together those experimenters who have an established interest in vacuum as well as to promote vacuum technique as an interesting and challenging hobby. The publication schedule was set at quarterly with each issue containing 14 well packed pages of content and no commercial advertising.

Over the years, the readership grew to several hundred and contributors have ranged from true amateurs to professionals with established credentials in the field. This diversity has made for a lively publication and has resulted in favorable comments from the professional community (e.g. There's Life in this Bell Jar in the Newsletter of the American Vacuum Society, May/June 1994).

A web presence was established in the mid 1990s and was intended to be an adjunct to the printed publication. The website offered subscription information and a small selection of articles from the printed journal. By 2000 I found that it was increasingly difficult to keep up with a quarterly publication schedule as well as increased costs of printing and mailing. As a result, the printed version of the journal temporarily retired at the midpoint of the 2001 volume (Volume 10).

At the close of 2007 I revived the journal but not in the previous form. I have decided to continue the journal as an on line publication with a printed version available at the close of the year to those parties who want paper output or don't have ready access to a computer. Details are available elsewhere on this site. The lingering issue of Volume 10 is closed with that issue available on this site.

As an adjunct to the on line information I am also making available some pieces of specialized hardware. This will make it easier for some experimenters to have easier access to otherwise hard to get apparatus.

Interactivity has been enhanced through a discussion forum, launched in early 2008).

I have ensured that the content of back issues would always be available. By the time the sixth volume was published I compiled the first five years of issues into a compilation entitled (appropriately) The First Five Years. This is available as an electronic document or as a printed book. Now that Volume 10 has been completed there will be (predictably) The Second Five Years. This is well through preparation and will be available in January 2009.

About the logo: One of the first vacuum booklets I obtained (sometime in the mid 60s) was a little booklet from Ultek (then a supplier of ion pumps and UHV systems). The title was A Little Bit About Almost Nothing. (Needless to say, I still have it.) In the vacuum fundamentals section was a cartoon of a person trapped in a vacuum belljar. Needless to say his cries for help could not be heard since he was in a vacuum. Since then I've seen a number of variations on this theme and I always liked it (some people really hate it though). Thus it seemed appropriate to adapt this idea (my sister in law did this version) for my publication and add the tag line: Get into vacuum with the Bell Jar.

Steve Hansen, December 2008

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©2008 Stephen P Hansen, the Bell Jar