Start here for information on the basics of vacuum technology,
hardware, projects, tutorials, my magazine articles,
selected articles from back issues of the Bell Jar
and materials from Frank Lee's collection of projects.

The "New" Bell Jar Newsletter

Starting in December 2019 the old quarterly print newsletter is being revived as a monthly set of notes with the occasional extended article. Issues are in pdf format.

Number 1, December 2019. Status update on the web site, the end of brass vacuum components, Richard Hull and his High Energy Amateur Science gatherings, vacuum training systems, amateur science related articles in Vacuum Technology & Coating magazine and a solicitation for reader input.

Number 2, January 2020. A revival of chemical silvering, coaxial plasma accelererators - an opportunity for amateurs?, review of the book Plasma Science and Technology for Emerging Economies, update on my pseudospark apparatus, 3 vacuum basics articles in Vacuum Technology & Coating magazine.

Number 3, February 2020. The Basic Vacuum Education System (BVES), a simple to build apparatus with a collection of exercises suitable for middle and high school use. Details on my pseudospark electron source. Several articles on vacuum gauging in Vacuum Technology & Coating magazine.

Number 4, March 2020. Speed of particles falling in vacuum, simple plasma experiments with commercial gas vacuum tubes, DIY high voltage power supply ideas, five articles related to the pump down process, pumping speed and throughput in Vacuum Technology & Coating magazine.

Number 5, April 2020. Atmospheric pressure plasmas - the dielectric barrier discharge, a new Tesla biography, brief update from Richard Hull on his new Fusor V, a simple mini system for evaporation, papers on line, articles of possible interest in Vacuum Technology & Coating magazine and a vacuum system for sale.

Number 6, May 2020. An update on the use of refrigeration service vacuum pumps, Mark Atherton on his single supply thermocouple vacuum gauge controller and articles of possible interest in Vacuum Technology & Coating magazine.

Number 7, June 2020. Topics include Mark Atherton’s DIY turbo pump controller, Robert Clarke's CO2 laser and his proposal for an open source fore-pressure vacuum gauge, Chuck Sherwood's work with alpha particle vacuum gauges, an information request from Sean Muldrew on vacuum metallization of small plastic parts and some information by the editor on atmospheric pressure plasma jets and related power supplies. Also a listing of articles of possible interest in Vacuum Technology & Coating magazine.

Number 8, July 2020. Topics include pulse valves using automobile fuel injectors, Bruce Kendall on the restoration of antique vacuum equipment, some links from Mark Atherton related to DIY cyclotrons and an "electron mirror," and a quick update on the editor's plasma jet apparatus. Also a listing of articles of possible interest in Vacuum Technology & Coating magazine.

Number 9, August 2020. Topics include an update on Chuck Sherwood's Alphatron gauge and helpful information on the use of orifices to introduce gases into vacuum systems and to measure some system characteristics such as pumping speed. Also the beginnings of a series on the "The Vacuum Technology Education System" (VTES), a successor to the VPAL-A. Finally some more listings of articles of possible interest in Vacuum Technology & Coating magazine.

Number 10,September 2020. The sole topic concerns the use of essential oils as source materials for Plasma Enhanced Chemical Vapor Deposition using low pressure and atmospheric pressure reactors. It is the editor's hope that this might encourage experimentation on the part of amateurs. As usual, there are some more listings of articles of possible interest in Vacuum Technology & Coating magazine.

Number 11, October 2020. Topics include some notes on gliding arc discharges, a final update on Chuck Sherwood's Alphatron gauge and an overview of SUNY's VAPPOR vacuum and plasma training tool by Stephen Stewart. As usual, there are some more listings of articles of possible interest in Vacuum Technology & Coating magazine. Please note: This issue was edited on 11/1/2020, one day after initial publication to include some missing photographs.

Number 12, November 2020. Topics include the American Vacuum Society's Classics in Vacuum Science and Technology series, using Dwyer Magnehelic gauges in vacuum applications and a review by Mark Atherton of the Applied Science YouTube Channel. As usual, there are some more listings of articles of possible interest in Vacuum Technology & Coating magazine.

Number 13, December 2020. Topics include bell jar type vacuum chambers, Chuck Sherwood on glass tube to metal fitting adapters and his electron beam source, glass chamber for a single gap pseudospark device, an inexpensive capacitor solution for dense plasma focus devices and an update on the Dwyer Magnehelic gauge. As usual, there are some more listings of articles of possible interest in Vacuum Technology & Coating magazine.

Number 14, January 2021. Topics include Mark Atherton's floating filament and grid power supply, the surface micro-discharge (SMD) atmospheric pressure plasma source, an update on Richard Hull's Fusor V and activation experiments, the saddle field ion source, Joe Malek on simulating electrostatic fields and amateur friendly suppliers of vacuum hardware. As usual, there are some more listings of articles of possible interest in Vacuum Technology & Coating magazine.

Number 15, February 2021. Topics include an update on Chuck Sherwood’s electron beam source and related efforts, construction of a surface micro-discharge (SMD) atmospheric pressure plasma source, a Canadian supplier of electron tube components and the usual listings of articles of possible interest in Vacuum Technology & Coating magazine.

Number 16, March 2021. Topics include Mark Atherton’s homemade triode, electron optics kits (then and now), an update on surface micro-discharge plasmas and nebulizers and the usual listing of articles of possible interest in Vacuum Technology & Coating magazine.

Number 17, April 2021. Contributions include Mark Atherton on coupling RF to a plasma and the transfer characteristics for his triode; and Chuck Sherwood with an update on his evolving electron source. Additionally, the editor continues with more details on atmospheric pressure plasma devices. Specific topics include a review of the Information Unlimited PVM500 plasma power supply, a simple surface micro-discharge (SMD) remote plasma source using a test tube and BBs and an update on the nebulizer and aerosol applicator for the plasma jet. Lastly, the usual listing of articles of possible interest in Vacuum Technology & Coating magazine.

Number 18, May 2021. Contributions include vacuum microwave drying technology including Earl Rich's use of VMD for the drying of wood turnings, Mark Atherton on his recent plasma experiments, some notes on plasma activated water (PAW), an update on my saddle field ion/fast atom source, some interesting YouTube channels and, of course, articles of possible interest in Vacuum Technology & Coating magazine.


Creating, Measuring and Using Vacuum: How They All Fit Together

By clicking on the image you will bring up a pdf with the latest revision of the chart that I developed for the Bell Jar in its early days. In 2015 I wrote a two-part series of articles in Vacuum Coating & Technology that were based on the still current version of the chart. These articles may be accessed at the following links:
June 2015 Part 1
July 2015 Part 2

An Introduction to Vacuum Technology for the Amateur Scientist

This 40 page booklet is intended for the amateur scientist that is interested in making use of vacuum in his or her projects. It contains information on vacuum theory, apparatus and representative vacuum projects. This booklet was compiled at the request of the Citizen Scientists League which, unfortunately, no longer exists. Much of the content is available from sources on this page while some is new content.

A Primer on Using Ace-Threds™

Ace-Threds are a demountable feedthough system for glassware items. They represent a great way to add electrical and fluid feedthroughs to custom and standard glassware.

Ace-Thred is a trademark of Ace Glass, Inc.

Exploding Wires: Principles, Apparatus and Experiments

I produced this booklet in 1993 and sold a goodly number of them through Lindsay Publications. For me, exploding wires led to rail guns and other pulse plasma devices.

This section links to ongoing projects in my shop. These will be updated as work progresses so check back every now and then if something is of interest. The linked pages were last updated in 2012 and the projects, except for the pseudospark work, have been fairly dormant.

Mini-F Plasma Focus Device. This has some links to excellent resources.

Pseudospark Electron Beam Source. Basic pseudospark devices are quite simple to construct and present a fascinating area for study.

Vacuum Spark Soft X-Ray Source. Flash x-ray sources represent another interesting area of study.

The Last Print Format Issue, Volume 10, Number 3/4

tBJ existed through its first 9-1/2 volumes as a paid-subscription paper journal. The last issue of Volume 10 was completed in 2007 and is available only as an electronic document.

Contents: Buckyball Synthesis (G. Konesky), Microwave Oven Plasma Reactor (H. Page), High Voltage with Hardware Store DC/AC Inverters, Taking the Bubbles out of Gel Candles, Pressure Control from Cartesian Divers to PID.

Bell Jar Compilations

The articles contained in the first 10 years of the Bell Jar have been compiled into two publications. These are available as password protected downloads. After purchasing a download, instructions on how to retrieve and open the document will be emailed to you, generally within 24 hours. If you wish to remit by a method other than PayPal, please email me via the Contact Form.

The First Five Years: This is a compilation of the content of Volumes 1-5 (1992-1996). It contains over 200 pages of vacuum theory & practice, projects and useful tidbits. The table of contents is linked to chapters for ease of navigation. File size is approximately 11.5 MB. Price is $40 as a PDF download.</>

Click here to view some sample pages.

The Second Five Years: This compilation contains the content of Volumes 6-10 (1996 - 2000) less most of Volume 10 Numbers 3&4 which is already available for download elsewhere on this page. Bookmarks are provided for ease of navigation through the 200+ page document. File size is approximately 10 MB. The price is $40 as a PDF download.

Click here to view the table of contents.

My Articles in Vacuum Technology & Coating magazine

Guides to Vacuum Technology

This is a monthly column that I have written for "Vacuum Technology & Coating" magazine since early 2009. All of the back issues are available in electronic format. Click the image to go the magazine's home page. At the bottom of the page is a search utility where you can access all issues by month and year.

Other articles that I've written for the magazine include "A Primer on Vacuum Pressure Measurement" (May 2009) and "Vacuum Equipment for Education" (May 2010).

At some point I'll have a separate page with article titles and a brief summary.

Selected Regular Articles from Volumes 1-10

The following articles are a sampling from the pages of the Bell Jar. In most cases they are in their original form. Numerous updates, corrections and expansions have been made to these articles when merged into the two compilations.

Note: Articles published later than 1996 are in PDF format. Earlier articles are in HTML.

Vacuum Basics: Vacuum fundamentals, terminology, applications and a reading list

Refrigeration Service Vacuum Pumps: Medium vacuum at low cost

Vacuum on the Cheap: This is pretty much an update to Frank Lee's adaptations of refrigeration compressors. With the availability of relatively inexpensive refrigeration service pumps, this information is more of historical interest.

Building a Thermocouple Vacuum Gauge: Homemade controller used with commercial sensor tubes

A Simple Medium Vacuum System

Generating X-Rays with Receiving Tubes: Article by Bob Templeman

Plasma Experiments: Some resources and ideas

Vacuum and Scientific American’s " The Amateur Scientist": Listing of columns from the 1950s until the death of the column in the 1990s

Infrasound Monitoring with a Microbarograph: Not really vacuum related but of interest to those who want to monitor small atmospheric pressure changes

Material By Frank Lee

Frank Lee, through his writings in Scientific American, was my primary source of inspiration with regard to getting involved with vacuum technology. During the mid 1990s I corresponded regularly with him and had the pleasure of meeting him once. At that time he presented me with small collection of his drawings and writings, some of which have found their way into the Bell Jar. As of this writing (late 2007) I am in the process of scanning many of these documents and they will be available here in their original form.

Some Recollections: A brief autobiography by Frank Lee

Conversion of Refrigerator Compressors into Vacuum Pumps: Booklet on adapting 1950s vintage refrigeration compressors

Hickman Oil Diffusion Pump: This is one of the pumps sold by Morris & Lee in the 1960s. I purchased one of these for about $35.00 if memory serves me right. It required a low backing pressure and, at that time, was beyond the capabilities of any of my early forepumps. Recent studies by Hablanian, et al. have shown that the Hickman pump functions more more like a trap than a pump.

Kurth-Ruggles Mercury Diffusion Pump: This was the other pump sold by Morris & Lee. It will operate with forepressures to 2 mmHg but was much more expensive than the Hickman.

Production of Very Low Temperatures: This was in Frank Lee's pamphlet "Experiments in High Vacuum"

Estimating the Relative Mass of the Electron: This was another project in "Experiments in High Vacuum"

Homemade Metal Diffusion Pumps: This is a collection of notes and letters from Frank Lee concerning his thoughts on small (1 inch) DIY diffusion pumps

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