This guide updates the Nixe tube from steam-punk to cyber-punk with LEDs and acrylic sheets. From Make:
The working principle of the Nixie replica is simple, but effective: Ten transparent plates made out of extruded acrylic sheet (polymethyl methacrylate or PMMA, also known as Lucite, perspex, or plexiglass) are engraved with the numerals 0 to 9. Stacked on top of one another, each plate is illuminated from the edge using multicolor LEDs. Due to the internal refraction of light within the acrylic plate, only the numeral that’s selected will actually light up, while the plates’ surfaces, and all the other numerals in the stack, will remain transparent and colorless.
We didn’t come up with this idea — we’ve seen it demonstrated at Maker Faires in the U.S. and Europe. Connor Nishijima, a maker in Utah, coined the name “Lixie” for his projects, inspiring many other makers.
Building an LED Nixie
The light from the LEDs on the circuit board shines into the tabs on the acrylic plate, which is engraved with a numeral. The foam mask on the board prevents the light from radiating sideways and straying into adjacent plates.
Because the light enters the acrylic from the edge, total internal reflection occurs, and the acrylic behaves like a light pipe. The light’s path is broken only at the engraved lines (and at the edges of the plate) so that only these spots light up — and the digit shines.
Adafruit publishes a wide range of writing and video content, including interviews and reporting on the maker market and the wider technology world. Our standards page is intended as a guide to best practices that Adafruit uses, as well as an outline of the ethical standards Adafruit aspires to. While Adafruit is not an independent journalistic institution, Adafruit strives to be a fair, informative, and positive voice within the community – check it out here: adafruit.com/editorialstandards
Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on code.org, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.
Have an amazing project to share? The Electronics Show and Tell is every Wednesday at 7pm ET! To join, head over to YouTube and check out the show’s live chat – we’ll post the link there.