Our CHRISTMAS LECTURES assistant Kate Mulcahy guides you through a musical example of how to hack your home and make your fairy lights flash in time to music.
What you'll need
For this very basic circuit we simply twisted stripped metallic ends of wires together and covered them in electrical tape. You could also solder the components of the circuit together if you wanted to make your musical lights more robust.
If you buy an audio jack that is not wired you will need to wire it yourself. To do this screw off the plastic covering that protects the terminals.
The two side prongs are the left/right terminals and the longer metal prong is the ground. For this project attach one wire to either of the side terminals - this will be your left/right wire and then attach another wire to the longer terminal - this is your ground wire. Thread the wires through the plastic casing and screw back in place.
You should now have a complete circuit connecting the fairy lights, the audio jack, the battery pack and the transistor.
Once your circuit is created, plug the audio jack into a speaker, laptop or computer and play music. You will probably need to turn it up very loud! The output from a smartphone is usually too low to allow this to work. If you are connecting the audio jack to a computer or laptop it can be useful to use a splitter and an additional speaker. This way you can hear the music and see your lights flash at the same time. Adjusting the volume of the music affects how the lights flash.
Please make sure that children are supervised by an adult at all times when putting this hack together and using the lights afterwards. Do not leave the fairy lights on and twinkling to music unattended, make sure you're around to dance along!
The engineering behind the hack
Transistors are one of the most important components in many electronic devices and are essential to microchips and computing.They can be used to amplify signal or as switches.
For this home hack the transistor is acting like a switch. A low voltage signal output is sent from the audio jack to the transistor. When this is output is strong enough the transistor acts like a switch which allows the larger DC current in the battery powered fairy lights to glow. The transistor switch is very responsive and so as the music and therefore the flow of current from the audio jack changes the fairy lights flicker and dim seemingly instantaneously.
The 19th century saw more than its fair share of shipwrecks, alongside scientific and technological leaps in maritime safety. Here our Heritage and Collections volunteer, Laurence Scales, surfaces some of these stories from our archives.
Posted to In the archives on20th February 2019