Revealing the Hidden Beauty of Common Components

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Light Show: A two-color LED sanded almost in half, with still-functioning light-emitting junctions. 
Photo: Eric Schlaepfer/Tube Time

By: Stephen Cass

As we’ve remarked in these pages before, oftentimes some of the best engineering around is invisible, hidden inside black boxes of one sort or the other. If the black box is sufficiently important in some way, professional forensic and reverse engineers can be employed to crack it open and reveal its secrets. But what about more humble items, such as the apparently unremarkable components that make up everyday electronics? Who cares enough to take the trouble to look inside them?

Eric Schlaepfer does. To the delight of a growing following, in March of this year, Schlaepfer started posting to his @TubeTimeUS twitter accountmagnified cross sections of capacitors, cables, LEDs, transistors, and more, usually with accompanying annotations.

His photography project began in a moment of idle curiosity, after fixing an old function generator that he used to test other circuits. He’d just finished replacing a number of capacitors. “I was kind of staring down at my desk, looking at these dead tantalum capacitors, and I picked one up,” he says. “I was just going to throw it in the waste can, but then I realized that I don’t really know what’s inside these things, and it might actually be interesting to take a look inside…so I just took out a sheet of sandpaper and started going at it.”

Schlaepfer took photos of the results and tweeted them, where they quickly drew a positive response. Encouraged, Schlaepfer dug around in his junk box, pulled out a standard quarter-watt carbon film resistor, and sanded away. He got another wave of positive responses. “It’s the sort of component that most hobbyists have experience with, right? People really like that,” says Schlaepfer, who began sanding down every component he could find.