As a mad scientist, skilled with his hands. I build my own tools, in many cases. I think would be very useful if can ask about contruction of tools related to the Physical (in general).

(contruction mean: procedures, materials, and other stuff)

I know the FAQ say that "How to stabilize an unstable telescope?" is on-topic.

But what about "How to build a solar filter for my telescope?" Would that be on-topic? Or, "How to build a neutron source?" Would that be on-topic?

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    $\begingroup$ Are you really a mad scientist? Or are you just not really that happy right now? $\endgroup$ – Jim Nov 7 '14 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Jim and why does that matter? $\endgroup$ – rnrneverdies Nov 7 '14 at 16:04
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    $\begingroup$ So I know if I should tell you to cheer up or calm down $\endgroup$ – Jim Nov 7 '14 at 16:05
  • $\begingroup$ ah, maybe I made a bad translation of my intention. $\endgroup$ – rnrneverdies Nov 7 '14 at 16:08
  • $\begingroup$ No, it was good. I'm just being punny $\endgroup$ – Jim Nov 7 '14 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ im like Hydrogen but heavier. $\endgroup$ – rnrneverdies Nov 7 '14 at 16:46
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    $\begingroup$ How is the mad grant proposal going? $\endgroup$ – dmckee Nov 8 '14 at 3:31

I'd (personally, not as a moderator) go with something like

The design and construction of instruments that you can not easily buy---either because there is no commercial supply, because each one is necessarily unique or because you're jury-rigging a basic instrument for a home-experiment---might be on-topic. The design and construction of instruments that compete directly with commercially available instruments is off-topic as engineering.

  • $\begingroup$ that's my point, but much better explained. $\endgroup$ – rnrneverdies Nov 7 '14 at 19:49

Others gave nice answers (with which personaly generaly agree), will add one more.

Questions having to do with application based on physical principles (or practical physics) should be on-topic. Even if these questions involve making things or measuring things or assessing things, etc..

This is just physics.

Now if one wants to build a telescope, the physical principles are what is relevant to build a working telescope. This involves the mathematical relations that are relevant to telescopes, the materials and their properties, the compensating factors for atmospheric effects, parallax calculations and all that.

If one wants to assess personaly the efficiency of an already made telescope (either home-made or purchased) using physical principles, this should also be on-topic.

Now if one wants the locations of the materials for making a telescope or extensive research about a specific material over another material for building a telescope. i would say this cannot be done correctly and effectively here. And this indeed involves engineering research which can be extensive.

Nevertheless the physical principles remain the same, even for assessing the various materials, but any furher investigation would be off-topic.


I would say this is more an engineering question, which in general is off-topic; see this topic: Are engineering questions appropriate for this site?.

There is currently no general engineering SE site, but there is one in commitment phase: Area 51 - Engineering. So I'd suggest you wait until it matures or even commit to the proposed site yourself.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks bringing this up! It was news to me that a venue for engineering questions was in the works. Usually when a question is deemed to be "engineering", the poster is just SOL. We could at least let them know that Area 51 exists. Also since there isn't an fully established site yet, it wouldn't be the end of the world to be a wee bit more tolerant of questions on the engineering/experimental physics borderline. $\endgroup$ – user3823992 Nov 11 '14 at 6:15

I'm not going to say there isn't a way of asking those questions that would be on-topic. With the right wording, you could manage to get away with asking them. But it's risky business. Engineering questions are generally off-topic here and asking how to build tools for science is definitely more of an engineering topic. My advice would be to avoid the trouble and not ask them, but if you think you can make the questions enough about physics and less about how to build something, then try your luck and we'll see what the reviewers think.

  • $\begingroup$ ...hot to build tools for science is definitely more of an engineering topic. I'm not so sure about that. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Nov 7 '14 at 15:42
  • $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos what part of that says asking about building the tools is experimental physics? $\endgroup$ – Jim Nov 7 '14 at 15:43
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    $\begingroup$ The tags experimental-physics and experimental-technology $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Nov 7 '14 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ Do questions on "how to build the tools for an experiment" pertain to the limits, management, or operation of the scientific equipment? Do they ask about the design, process, data, or analysis of the experiment? $\endgroup$ – Jim Nov 7 '14 at 15:46
  • $\begingroup$ how to build the tools is not usually about the limits of them or about using them. It is also not at all about the experiment itself $\endgroup$ – Jim Nov 7 '14 at 15:47
  • $\begingroup$ I would contend that they could be asked in such a way to satisfy that. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Nov 7 '14 at 15:47
  • $\begingroup$ But, I did point out that the question could be worded in an on-topic way. I merely said that usually, these are more engineering issues $\endgroup$ – Jim Nov 7 '14 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ But you state that it's definitely more of an engineering topic (emphasis mine) and I'm not sure that I agree with that. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Nov 7 '14 at 15:49
  • $\begingroup$ 51% engineering and 49% experimental physics is definitely more of an engineering topic $\endgroup$ – Jim Nov 7 '14 at 15:50

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