Update 11 December 2011

Well, it's been a while since the last update and any updates to this site. Over the past two years we have been getting settled into our new home and adjusting to a not quite so structured lifestyle. We had a fair amount of work to do to complete our home's interior and the yard. For one thing, there was no suitable space for vacuum equipment.

A first priority was to finish the upstairs. This provided us with a guest bedroom and a nice office & lab for me. I also had gotten talked into getting my ham license with the result that I have a nice radio shack along one wall of the office/lab. I now operate a couple of 24/7 radio servers (Winlink and a BPQ32 BBS) and there are now several solar panels on the roof to keep all of the electronics going during power outages.

In addition to that, I also assumed responsibility for the Guides to Vacuum Technology column in Vacuum Technology & Coating, a really great trade publication. Please be sure to visit that site and also check out the back issues of the magazine, all of which are available on line.

So, where do we go from here? I will be finishing the Second Five Years compilation very soon. It's been at the "almost done" stage for 2 years, I just need to get over the threshold. Lots of housekeeping to do as well (fixing broken links and so forth). The forum needs attention and lastly I need to add more content. I have a lot of "stuff" hanging around, it needs to be formalized.

As for new projects, I am working on some new devices including flash x-ray tubes, an optical cathodoluminescence microscope and some refinements to my plasma etcher.

Update 1 January 2009

Barely two weeks ago we completed a process that we began in late 2003: we moved to Maine. I am a native Mainiac (So Portland) and my wife Chris has many family ties to midcoast and central Maine. Frankly, I hate to move and we'd been in our Amherst, NH home for nearly 30 years. However, she expressed an interest in retiring to Maine and I love downeast Maine. So, I gave her a challenge: find a lot that we can build on, that we can afford and that has some kind of access to open water. She looked for 2 days and within a week we had purchased a 1.2 acre parcel that was on a salt water inlet and had an approved septic plan.

The soil engineer suggested that we have the land resurveyed as the old markers were gone. We did this and promptly found out that our boundary was about 100 feet from where we thought it was. The kicker was that the only place we could site the septic system was no longer on our property.

To make a long story short, we got a good deal on the neighboring parcel (where there was room for 2 septic systems) and then sold the first lot with an easement for the owners of that parcel to use the edge of our property for their septic.

When we got all of this resolved it was well into 2006 and we were finally ready to build. The house, a cape, was completed this past June and we placed our Amherst house on the market. Talk about good timing! Let's just say we are very thankful that we managed to sell the house to a very nice couple with a 6 month old child and walked away mortage free and with a few leftover dollars in our pockets. Not what we were hoping for but no more worry about carrying two houses in a horrible economy.

For anyone wanting to ship anything or call, our new contact information is:

PO Box 456
34 Meadowbrook Lane
Owl's Head, ME 04854


The photo below shows our inlet at high tide. (Low tide is a bit less photogenic unless you are into mud.) Penobscot Bay and the beautiful Muscle Ridge Islands are about 1 mile away by water.

Over the past 15 years I've done a lot of work with educators, especially folks who are teaching advanced manufacturing technology curricula in the technical colleges. While much of this has been done in the context of my work at MKS, I am doing more direct work with faculty and program sponsors. Reflecting this I have started a new section on this site that is focussed on vacuum products and resources for education. I am hoping that this becomes an important resource for the physics and technology education community.

Update 17 February 2008

The Vacuum Technology Forum is now available. Please take advantage of this new feature.

There is now a link on the Education Links page to the AVS Vacuum History Timeline. Be sure to check out the period 1972 to 2007.

There is a new article and the Chambers & Supplies page is starting to come together. Items listed thus far include pump manifolds and connectors, phosphor screens and a "classic" configuration discharge tube.

Check out the flash videos now added to the Gallery page.

Update 5 January 2008

Feedback & Future Directions Survey Results

First, thanks to the several dozen people who participated. The responses have been most valuable to me in determining how to proceed with the site going forward. The following is a summary of the results and feedback along with what I am going to do with the feedback.

Have you at any point subscribed to the print version of the Bell Jar?
45% have subscribed to the journal for at least one year with 17% subscribing for all 10 years.

Have you ever purchased a copy of the "First Five Years" compilation?
22% have, 44% plan to.

Usefulness of the content of "the Bell Jar" (print or website).
84% find it to frequently have interesting and valuable information. 16% find it useful some of the time. Nobody confused tBJ with the novel by the author whose name I can't mention because the search engines get all messed up.

Favorite vacuum related topics:
Equipment (pumps, gauges, etc.) 87%, Vacuum principles and theory 76%, History of vacuum technology and vacuum devices 56%, Vacuum applications in physics 93%, Vacuum applications in chemistry 36%, Vacuum applications in biology 9%, Vacuum applications in arts and crafts 9%, Education using vacuum 18%. More specific topics (ancillary or subsidiary to the previous e.g. high voltage, neon sign fabrication, particle accelerators, x-ray tubes, etc.) all scored in the <5% range.

Two questions dealt with print vs electronic formats for publications.
Only 11% prefer print over electronic. 36% would prefer electronic. The balance are ok with either format although 36% would like the option to remain available for print. 4% really don't like soft copy (computer access issue or just like to read text on paper).

On the subject of subscription fees and alternatives.
47% like the idea of the journal as a paid web feature. 24% would make donations for web content. 11% would pay a higher price for printed content. 7% believe in free web content and 2% don't think that tBJ is worth anything.

Have you ever contributed an article to the Bell Jar?
Yes 9%, No 58%. The balance (33%) haven't but would consider doing so in the future.

Would you be interested in a discussion forum on the website?
75% say yes. 4% aren't interested and the balance are neutral.

Would you be interested in an offering of specialized vacuum related hardware?
84% say yes, 9% aren't interested with the balance being neutral.

Comments (edited for brevity as necessary):
  • Provide more practical information like: what is a ConFlat flange or KF flange or NW flange or NPT fitting etc. and how all these can be connected to make a vacuum system (I find this to be verrry confusing!).
  • Either print or electronic would be fine, whatever you decide, just get on with it! There is a large vacuum left with no "Bell Jar" ! (pun intended !)
  • Electronic/online might be better, still waiting for last printed issue.
  • Great site, need more regular updates!
  • I am looking forward to the Bell Jar coming alive again! The information is very interesting and good information on vacuum science is very scarce even with the internet. I would also be very interested in being able to purchase some of the hard to find items.
  • I can't wait for the "Second Five Years" even though I have all the available issues of TBJ. The editing and organization of all the material in "The First Five Years" really makes it superior to the separate issues IMO.
  • I feel guilty for not having contributed. tBJ is the center of focus for amateur experimentation with vacuum and for experimental areas that involve vacuum. Thank you!
  • I have only recently discovered your site. Looks good to me. Keep up the good work.
  • I have returned to the Bell Jar site and read many of the posted articles several times. I intend to build and IEC Fusor as discussed on Fusor.net and an obvious deal of knowledge of vacuum processes is needed for successful accomplishing this goal. Thanks for your attention over there as well or I might have missed this opportunity to get in my 2 cents in.
  • I really enjoy tBJ, first saw the ad in Nuts and Volts. I was astounded to find that there were vacuum hobbyists, I've never met one. Since than have built up a neon plant, and had many adventures in processing, found a few things that are not known in the neon trade, that should be published. There must be a little article in there somewhere! I'm years behind in everything too... but I hope this doesn't die entirely. Meanwhile, much as everyone enjoys playing with computers... there's no doubt that a paper copy is superior in every way. Marginal comments can be scribbled, a page can be copied and shown to someone, they will outlast sixty generations of computers. I have thought of some new demos in the discharge-tube area, based on neon practice, and hope that there will be some tBJ-related merchandise. A "classic" discharge tube would be smashing, useful, educational! I have some old books about "experimental electronics" (electron devices!) and can see that that phosphor screen is really missing from my life, speaking of something in question 10.
  • I really like the color option on the publications. Since I routinely take pdf formats to Staples or Office depot for color printing and binding, a color pdf option is fine for me.
  • I wish you would continue your work with plasma focus development. This, in turn, would lead to additional experiments with neutrons, etc.
  • Regarding question 10, I would like to see some of the more complicated glass/metal vacuum connections, possibly a turn key tube kit, specifically for use in projects related to the August 1971 Amateur Scientist article by Larry Cress... I realize that is very specific, but having built a number of those tubes with vacuum wax, there is nothing like a good metal on glass vacuum seal! Possibly a custom build option?
  • Silvering of small telescope mirrors, etc.
  • Though I've not been a paid subscriber, in the past, the content of tBJ has been helpful, interesting even fascinating, and I hope you are able and willing to continue it.
  • The pages/newsletter would need to go up, and quality of articles too. A few pages with so-so articles was not worth it, there are even free web pages with more information. Sorry to be so blunt, but that was my honest observation.
  • There should be more free stuff. Maybe a system that limited an IP to one or 2 free downloads per year, that the user could choose from the entire catalog. this would help the impoverished experimenter like me a lot.
  • Would like to see any alternative high vacuum pumps made from ordinary consumer stuff

So, what am I going to do with this?

As the results started to roll in the general trends became evident. If you have been monitoring the site you will have seen some changes already.

  • I looked at print vs electronic and various subscription schemes. After considering password protected areas, fees and renewals, etc. I decided to just make the site free (at least through 2008) with a hope that people who like what they see will see fit to make a monetary donation to the effort from time to time. Purchases made from Amazon through the links on the site also help. (Remember, Amazon sells a lot more than books and DVDs!)
  • I will continue to make printed versions an option. Each of the compilations will continue to have a printed version and I will do something with each of the tBJ full volumes beginning with Volume 11. (If I didn't have a print option, my mother would never read another Bell Jar!)
  • A web forum is being formatted. That will be unveiled in January.
  • I am compiling a list of useful things to offer. I do not want to get into the business of reselling readily available parts as they are just as easily available through "the big guys." However, for things like special glassware, small phosphor screens and some specific assemblies, I will start to make those available.
  • One of the early articles for 2008 will be one on vacuum components and how they are used.
  • As always, contributions of content are always welcome. Don't worry about your writing style or ability to produce drawings or edit images. I can do that.

Update 30 December 2007

The long awaited last issue of Volume 10 is now available. Please refer to the Articles & Publications page. Content includes Buckyball (fullerine) 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.

The years 6-10 compilation of articles is nearing completion. This should be available on line and in print by the early part of January 2008.

Volume 11 (2008) is now in progress. Topics will include modifications to a rotary vane vacuum pump for pumping oxygen, Kurt J. Lesker's amazing MicroMaze trap(high vacuum with a mechanical pump), projects with the "Universal Discharge Tube," simple ion sources, Bruce Kendall's glow plug Pirani gauge and more. I will also have a detailed pictorial essay on common vacuum flanges and fittings and how to use them.


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