Bad Dog Designs operate from a workshop located in the heart of Coven, Staffordshire, where couple Paul and Karen Parry create bespoke individual clocks from original vintage Nixie tubes, and any other bits and bobs they can find.
It’s often cited that Nixie Tubes were pioneered by the Burroughs Corporation in the mid 20th century, however, Burroughs merely marketed the technology under the brand name Haydu, or HB (for Haydu Brothers), then sold it to many other electronics firms.
The original ‘Haydu’ was a small electronics company based in New Jersey which Burroughs had purchased to manufacture the tubes themselves. The name ‘nixie’ came about on a whim, where a draftsman was sketching out designs for one of these tubes, labelling it ‘NIX1’ (Numeric Indicator Experimental #1), and the nickname stuck. In the December of 1956, Burroughs trademarked this name (a name now trademarked as dead/expired.) Nixie Tubes were, and remained highly popular until it emerged that LEDs were cheaper to manufacture in the 1970’s, something which Burroughs “professes to being unimpressed by the threat posed by LEDs, claiming that they have been oversold in recent months…” in The New Scientist, 1972.
But how do they work? The process can be explained in 5 easy steps;
• Gas molecules inside the tube are at a low pressure. When a high voltage is added between the anode and cathode, these molecules split into ions and electrons.
• The positively charged ions are attracted towards the negative charged cathode, while the negatively charged electrons are attracted to the positively charged anode (hence the old adage, opposites attract).
• Near the cathode, ions push gas molecules into the cathode itself, ejecting metal atoms from the surface of the cathode
• Electrons leave the cathode by emission, pulled towards the positively charged anode. Close to the cathode, there are more electrons than ions, however the electrons have low speed and energy. Collisions between the electrons and previously mentioned ejected atoms don’t spark enough to produce light, so this is referred to as ‘the Aston dark space’
• Once they’re at a certain distance from the cathode, the electrons pick up more speed and energy. Collisions with the ejected atoms causes them to produce visible light, giving that familiar glow we associate with Nixie tubes.
One of Bad Dog’s latest designs comes in the form of the Turing Clock, inspired by Alan Turing, the mathematician who played a pivotal part in the Second World War, turning the tide in the Allies’ favour by cracking intercepted coded messages. This was recently the subject of 2015 Hollywood blockbuster, ‘The Imitation Game’, where he was portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch.
Design cues were taken from Turing’s bombe which was used to decode the Enigma Machine messages. Starting life as a 1940’s resistance Decade box, the copper wiring on the front reminded Parry of the equipment used by Turing, which is where the idea for this piece came from. To say that all the equipment used is taken from the 1940’s, the device is certainly incredibly made.